By Yelena Akopian and Ryan Adames
This essay will discuss the issue of immigration within the European Union, using the recent deportations of Roma immigrants from France to illustrate issues including: immigrant rights, the challenges of immigrant integration, movement within borders and the limited authority of the European Union.
I will begin with a brief introduction of the Roma people. I will then discuss the St. Aignan protests, followed by an overview of French President Nicolas Sarkozy’s decision to deport over 300 camps of Roma immigrants. I will then conclude by discussing what kind of implications this situation may hold for immigration and human rights throughout the European Union.
About 12,000 Roma migrangts, who are also known as “traveling peoples” or “gypsies,” currently live in France, having moved there after Bulgaria and Romania’s accession to the EU in 2007. Since the Roma come from EU countries, most can enter France without a visa. Driven by poverty, unemployment, and low literacy levels in their home countries, they emigrate with hopes of making more money in France. Many have no work permits, live in squatter camps and must resort to begging to get by. They are required to work or have residency permits if they wish to stay for longer than three months—however, most are unable to find jobs.
In late July of this year, a 22-year-old robbery suspect and French Romanian immigrant named Luigi Duquenet drove through two check points in the south of France without stopping. After allegedly nearly running over a French officer, he was shot and killed by police.
Dozens of his Roma community members, who believed Luigi had been wrongfully killed, armed themselves with hatchets and iron bars and attacked a police station, several local businesses, destroyed public property, hacked down trees and burned cars in the small town of Saint Aignan in protest. Many from his community felt the use of firearms was unnecessary they perceived the event as a direct attack on their community…they had always felt like second-class citizens.
On July 21st, French President Nicolas Sarkozy responded to the riots by announcing that about 300 illegal Roma camps and squats would be dismantled within three months. If inhabitants did not provide required paperwork, they would be deported, mostly back to Romania/Bulgaria.
The government would pay for their airfare, and those who went back voluntarily were promised a compensation of 300 euros for adults and 100 euros for children. The move was part of Sarkozy’s larger effort to crack down on criminal activities and illegal immigration.
A statement from the president’s office said the camps were “sources of illegal trafficking, of profoundly shocking living standards, of exploitation of children for begging, of prostitution and crime”. The images above are scenes of daily life in Roma camps.
Since July 2010, at least 51 illegal Roma camps have been demolished, and France has repatriated at least 1,230 Roma back to their countries of origin [BBC BBC. September 15, 2010. Retrieved 2010-09-16].
This move by the Sarkozy administration sparked international debate. The government was accused of unfairly targeting Romanians and raised concerns over xenophobia, as well as concerns about freedom of European Union members to travel within the EU. Sarkozy was also accused of making the move in order to woo conservative supporters for his 2010 re-election campaign. The UN’s Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination sharply criticized France’s crackdown and said racism and xenophobia were undergoing a “significant resurgence.” EU Justice Commissioner Viviane Reding has described the deportations as a “disgrace” and the European Commission has taken a first step towards legal action against France.
This move by the Sarkozy administration sparked international debate. The government was accused of unfairly targeting Romanians and raised concerns over xenophobia, as well as concerns about freedom of European Union members to travel within the EU. Sarkozy was also accused of making the move in order to woo conservative supporters for his 2010 re-election campaign.
The UN’s Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination sharply criticized France’s crackdown and said racism and xenophobia were undergoing a “significant resurgence.” EU Justice Commissioner Viviane Reding has described the deportations as a “disgrace” and the European Commission has taken a first step towards legal action against France.
The event brought France under intense media scrutiny. The international community became concerned about marginalization of the Roma, who are a minority not only in France but throughout the EU. The deportations began to be referred to as “roundups,” recalling the treatment of Jews and Roma during World War II, during which an estimated 22,000 to 1.5 million Roma were systematically killed. French officials began to worry that the nation’s international image would be tarnished.
Emotions from such accusations manifested themselves in the form of protests, such as the Paris protest on Sept. 4th, which drew crowds of 77-100,000 people. Similar marches occurred in cities like Marseilles and Nantes, and there were solidarity rallies in neighboring countries like Spain and Belgium, as well as more distant states with significant Roma minorities including Hungary and Serbia.
The EU council is currently undergoing discussions on its ruling of France’s deportations. France is accused of being in conflict with both the EU’s charter of fundamental human rights as well as the Schengen Agreement, which I will now describe in more detail.
The Schengen Agreement:
The Schengen agreement, which was signed by EU states in 1985, eliminates all internal borders among participating states and established the concept of free movement of persons and goods between participating countries.
Although Romania and Bulgaria became part of the EU in 2007, Romanians and Bulgarians won’t enjoy full freedom of movement until January 2014, or seven years after the two countries’ accession into the EU. This creates a loophole for the French government, allowing them to legally exclude Romanians and Bulgarians from the freedom of movement granted to other EU citizens.
Charter of Fundamental Rights:
The European Union Charter of Fundamental Rights sets out the whole range of civil, political, economic and social rights of European citizens and all EU residents. Aticle 19, states explicitly that 1. collective expulsions are prohibited. Thought French officials claimed that the deportations were not discriminatory, evidence to the contrary was soon discovered.
The Leaked Memo:
In September, a memo from the Ministry of the Interior circulated to French police chiefs was leaked to the public, and appeared to confirm that the Roma were in fact being singled out. It read: “300 camps or illegal settlements must be evacuated within three months; Roma camps are a priority. It is down to the préfect [state representative] in each department to begin a systematic dismantling of the illegal camps, particularly those of the Roma.“
Critics of the expulsions claimed the memo was proof that international human rights laws on discrimination were being broken. It came as an embarrassment to immigration minister Eric Besson who had publicly stated that the deportations were not aimed specifically at the Roma.
So, how does the European Union deal with such a complex Immigration problems? This situation and similar situations of European immigration highlights the limits of EU authority, and exhibits the limited capacity of the Union.
Despite the popular cry for human rights, the ruling of the EU Commission issued no charge of discrimination against the Roma minority. They did, however, issue a mandate giving France until the 15th of October to adhere to the free movement clause, specifically the area of no mass deportations within EU.
Critics say the decision took too long and was too lenient on France for such human rights violations. While these accusations may bear some truth, the EU commission was able to hold France fully accountable without overstepping its authority or undermining EU stability by condemning a major EU state.
This situation strongly parallels events that occurred in 2005, when a community heavily populated by North African immigrants was described by Sarkozy, then the Interior Minister of France, as ‘crime ridden” which should be “cleaned with a power hose” and uses such words as “scum”, “gangrene”, and “rabble” to describe the inhabitants, reflecting underlying prejudice against immigrant populations in the nation.
• Two days later, three French youth of North African origin were electrocuted to death after climbing into an electrical sub-station in an attempt to flee police in Paris. Racial profiling is suspected and a full investigation followed.
• Over the following weeks, riots ensue and explode throughout Paris—police stations are ransacked, officials are injured and 400 vehicles are burnt.
This highlights several critical issues facing France in particular and the EU in general. Among them is the fact that violence carried out by immigrants points to a lack of integration amongst the populations as well as a failure on the part of officials to facilitate integration. Also, the idea of “open borders” for all within the EU is being challenged by member states’ reluctance to incorporate immigrant culture with existing European society.
• The European Commission threatened to take legal action against France unless it incorporates the free movement directive more completely into French law or if it is found to have targeted migrants by ethnic background. The nation was given until this past Friday before midnight to fall in line with EU laws. The Commission is currently reviewing the amendments submitted by France.
• The plight of the Roma in France represents only a small fraction of the culmination of grievances felt by immigrants and minorities throughout the EU. Officials throughout the Union are still grappling with how to deal with differences in policies between member states and the conditions of immigrants within and across their borders.