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Expulsions of Roma Get Public Nod in Sarkozy’s France

Nicolas Sarkozy
Nicolas Sarkozy, France's president, speaks during a news conference at the German federal chancellory, in Berlin. Photographer: Michele Tantussi/Bloomberg

Marka, who lives in a wooden shack with her husband in a camp holding about 300 Roma built next to a rail yard on the outskirts of Paris, says she feels every day could be their last one there.

The 17-year-old, who earns about 10 euros ($12.9) a day doing skits for Paris tourists, is among gypsies targeted by the French government for expulsion. President Nicolas Sarkozy, responding to a spate of violent crimes, last month ordered that 300 illegal Roma camps be dismantled and residents expelled.

For Sarkozy, who faces re-election in 2012, the evictions are among a series of steps -- including stripping naturalized citizens of their French citizenship if they commit serious crimes and jailing parents of juvenile delinquents -- to show he’s tough on crime. Politically, the moves are paying off as polls show the French support the measures, giving Sarkozy a bump up from record-low approval ratings.

“Sarkozy is surfing a radicalization of public opinion on the question of security and immigration,” said Laurent Dubois, a professor at Paris’s Institute of Political Studies. “Sarkozy’s declarations are a series of landmines that he’s slipped in under the summer sand. It helps remobilize the right, while at the same time creating divisions on the left.”

Police today evacuated 1,000 people in 274 caravans in Anglet, in southwestern France, LCI Television said. Interior Minister Brice Hortefeux said yesterday that more than 40 camps have been dismantled in the last 15 days and 700 people are being sent back to Bulgaria and Romania on chartered flights.

Public Support

The president’s popularity ratings are recovering, according to a CSA poll published in Le Parisien on Aug. 7. People who said they have confidence in Sarkozy rose to 34 percent in August from a record low of 32 percent in July. The poll questioned 1,002 people. No margin of error was given.

An Ifop poll published Aug. 6 in pro-government newspaper Le Figaro said 79 percent were in favor of dismantling gypsy camps. Between 70 and 80 percent favor taking citizenship away from foreign-born criminals. The poll questioned 1,003 people between Aug. 3 and 5. No margin of error was given.

In a poll by CSA for Communist Party newspaper Humanite, 62 percent said dismantling the camps is “necessary” and 57 percent said the same for taking away citizenship. The poll questioned 1,011 people Aug. 4-5. No margin of error was given.

The opposition Socialist Party is struggling to come up with a response.

‘Ill at Ease’

“Among voters, security is an issue where there is a lot of common ground across the political spectrum,” said Jean-Daniel Levy, head of the political department at CSA. “Many of the voters on the left don’t think the Socialist leadership is adequately tough on questions of security.”

Martine Aubry, the head of the Socialist Party, the country’s main opposition, issued a communiqué Aug. 1 that denounced Sarkozy for “sliding into anti-republican ideas that hurt France and its values.” She didn’t directly mention the proposals, and hasn’t spoken publicly.

“It’s a subject that Socialists are ill at ease about,” Pierre Moscovici, a former Socialist minister and a member of parliament, said in an Aug. 10 interview with RTL radio. “We have to get back to talking about social issues, about pensions, jobs, taxes, and not fall for this bait.”

Sarkozy’s measures came after itinerant workers in central France burned cars and a police station July 17 following the death in a police shooting of one of them -- a 22-year-old who didn’t stop his car during a night-time identity check.

Pantin Camp

The rioters belonged to a 400,000-strong community of French citizens without fixed addresses who do itinerant work. In contrast, the Roma number about 15,000 in France and are recent arrivals from Bulgaria and Romania. Aid groups criticized Sarkozy for lumping together the two unconnected communities.

While Romania joined the European Union in 2007, Romanians need permits to live and work in France until 2014. There’s no etymological link between Roma, or the people known as gypsies, and Romania, the country.

Sarkozy’s proposals were criticized yesterday at a session of the United Nations Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination in Geneva. The French foreign ministry said in a statement that it distinguishes between itinerant workers and gypsies, and that the Roma can reside in France as long as they respect local laws.

At the rail yard camp in the Paris suburb of Pantin, Marka lives in fear of expulsion. Marka, who wouldn’t give her last name, is a Romanian citizen who’s been in France “off and on” for 10 years. Most of the inhabitants of her camp arrived from Romania in the past six months and don’t speak French, she said.

‘Want to Stay’

Two rows of trailers and shacks face each other, with trash piled up at the entrance. There’s no running water, although the town of Pantin has installed eight chemical toilets. The men try to make money by collecting scrap metal, while the women beg. Most of the children don’t go to school.

The Pantin camp is illegal and is slated for destruction because the rail yard is due to be developed, said Philippe Navarro, chief of staff at the Pantin mayor’s office.

Inhabitants of the camp say they can make more money and are treated better in France than they would be in Romania. They say they won’t obey orders to leave the country.

In the neighboring Paris suburb of Saint-Denis, residents of a 10-year-old gypsy camp were evacuated by the police last month. This week, they were offered four empty lots by the Communist Party mayor.

On a recent day, men were building shacks there, using wood they’d found. Most of them speak French, and kids at the camp go to school, says Miahai Stefan, 30, a scrap-metal collector.

“We want to stay here,” he said. “We want a place to live, to work, and to send our kids to school.”

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