Roma evictions: François Hollande, This Policy is Harmful and Ineffective

France hit the headlines for all the wrong reasons two years ago when Sarkozy’s policy of mass expulsions of Roma created controversy around the world. Fast forward to 2012 and things are looking much more positive as the new government creates a fresh start. So how come it’s the same old story on Roma?

In the last week, around 500 Roma have been forcibly evicted from their homes. Some of them have been sent back to Romania, with a cash payment of 300 Euros. The scheme is apparently a voluntary returns system, but how voluntary is it to decide to leave when you’ve been kicked out of your home by the prefecture and you’re surrounded by police? What does voluntary return even mean when you’re well below the poverty line and there’s a cash payment attached?

The Council of Europe said as much last year. In a decision rebuking France for the mass expulsions of Roma in 2010, the European Committee of Social Rights said that voluntary returns were a disguise for mass expulsions. France was found to be in breach of the European Social Charter – a sad state of affairs for a republic that was founded on the principles of liberty, equality and fraternity.
At the European Roma Rights Centre, we’ve been monitoring evictions and expulsions from France over the last few years. They never went away. And what we’ve seen is that the policy of mass expulsions and voluntary returns is both harmful and ineffective.

It’s harmful because it doesn’t address the real problems that migrant Roma face in France. Let’s not forget that Roma are entitled to the same rights of freedom of movement as any other EU citizens. To single them out for mass expulsions sends the opposite message, fostering mistrust and fear from the mainstream.

And it’s ineffective because Roma take the money, get on a plane to Romania and later return to Western Europe, where they have to start all over again. It is a pointless endeavour by the government. Authorities waste their time, energy and money in expelling Roma instead of doing things that might actually create a lasting change: creating long-term sustainable housing solutions for Roma or helping them to access the labour market. 

It’s not just the migrant Roma population who suffer from this short-sighted approach. The whole of society suffers when a marginalised group is constantly uprooted and evicted in a negative cycle.

(Why do Roma return to France? That’s an article in itself. But if you have any doubt about the situation of Roma in Romania, consider that in the last few years they have variously been evicted to rubbish dumps and toxic chemical plants, separated from their towns by a wall, and shot at and killed by police officers. All in all, it’s unsurprising that Roma leave Romania.)

All this is more than bad policymaking, it’s a testament to broken promises. In March this year, François Hollande wrote to RomEurope, denouncing Sarkozy’s policies on Roma and promising to do things differently. He talked about the dangers of stigmatisation of this community and the repressive measures being enacted. He referenced the darkest days of Europe, the mass killings of Roma during the Holocaust and the cycle of discrimination that Roma face. Hollande is clearly a man who understands something of the situation of Roma, we thought. Hollande is a man who looks to the past in order to understand the future, we thought.

So why exactly is he allowing the Interior Minister to continue Sarkozy’s failed, discredited policies on Roma? Why isn’t he stepping in to take effective, positive steps to make a difference for this community? If the start of the Presidency sets the tone for things to come, this is extremely worrying. It’s a strange and shocking omission from a government that has so far promised a lot. We would be extremely disappointed if Hollande does not stay true to his word, and fails to deliver for Roma. 

Le Nouvel Observateur, Le Plus, Expulsions de Roms: François Hollande, cette politique est choquante et inefficace 

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