Francois Hollande’s administration promised a fairer approach for Roma than the previous ruling party’s. But a leaked internal order instructing police officers in Paris’ wealthy sixth arrondissement(district) to locate and “systematically evict” Roma living on the streets of the area suggests that, in practice, little has changed.
The new Minister of the Interior Bernard Cazeneuve was quick to respond, announcing a few hours after the order came to light yesterday that it had been rectified. He emphasized that police checks should not be conducted on the basis of nationality and insisted that the government’s approach towards illegal camps is based on a more humane August 2012 circular which instructs prefects – the state’s representatives in a department or region – to assess the situation of people living in unauthorized camps and try to find alternative accommodation for them.
The problem is that yesterday’s leaked order bears a striking resemblance to a notorious interior ministry circular from 2010, during Nicolas Sarkozy’s presidency, ordering prefects to systematically dismantle unauthorized camps – prioritizing those inhabited by Roma. The order was linked to mass expulsions of Roma EU citizens from France to Romania and Bulgaria.
Faced with fierce criticism at home and abroad, Sarkozy’s administration replaced the instruction with a new one that didn’t mention Roma and introduced purported safeguards to its expulsions procedure. But forced evictions and expulsions continued. Almost four years later, with a new president and different party in power, little has changed. In fact, rights groups have reported that evictions of Roma doubled in 2013 compared with 2012, in most cases without adequate alternative housing being offered, and that the nonbinding circular of August 2012 is rarely applied. When he was the minister of the interior, Manuel Valls, who is now prime minister, made it clear that for him, Roma should be evicted and progressively removed from France. Statements made yesterday by Stéphane Le Foll, the government's spokesperson, suggested the same approach: that Roma should be returned to Romania and Bulgaria.
Pushing families from one sidewalk or one camp to another only forces them to live in even more precarious conditions, disrupting healthcare and schooling. Cazeneuve should truly break from the practices of his predecessors and ensure people are consulted and offered adequate alternative housing before evictions take place. It will require much more than changing the words on a piece of paper.