This week, French Interior Minister Manuel Valls said his statement that only “a minority of Roma” want to integrate in France only shocked those “who don’t know the issue”. But as someone who has researched and followed this issue, I am shocked. When I asked Roma families in France about their lives, hopes and the challenges they face, they wished for the same things we all do: to work, to live in dignity, and togive their children a good education.
It is not the first time Roma have been portrayed negatively by a French official. Ironically, it was only a week ago that Manuel Valls warned against stigmatizing Roma after Paris mayoral candidate Nathalie Kosciusko-Morizet said that Roma “harass” Parisians.
When it was elected, the government appeared to distance itself from its predecessor’s rhetoric. Only a few months ago at the UN Human Rights Council, it committed itself to combat discrimination against Roma.
But now, their situation seems to be getting worse. NGOs report that more than 12,000 Roma were evicted from informal settlements so far this year, and most were evicted without being offered alternative housing. Manuel Valls has said that “the majority” of Roma “must be removed to the border”, leaving little doubt that expulsions to Romania and Bulgaria without individual assessment of each person’s situation will continue, in breach of EU law.
When he was a presidential candidate, Francois Hollande stressed that Romanians and Bulgarians, “whatever their origin,” are European citizens. Now, as President, Hollande must send out a clear message that whatever their nationality, immigration status or housing situation, Roma must be treated the same as everyone else. It is the duty of the State to protect vulnerable people living on its territory from discrimination and stigmatization.
Europe must play its role too. The European Commission was right to speak out on Wednesday and remind France of the right of all EU citizens to free movement. But Commissioner Viviane Reding’s speech earlier this month suggests she considered the Commission had successfully resolved France’s Roma crisis in the summer of 2010. There is no shortage of evidence that the crisis is still there, and this time the Commission should act on its warnings.