Eviction of 200 Roma near Lille follows raids in Paris and Lyon this week
Thursday 9 August 2012 13.59 BST
French police have raided a makeshift Roma camp, evicting 200 people, as the Socialist government quietly follows the former conservative administration's policy of repatriating illegal immigrants.
Dozens of police officers in riot gear descended on the camp near the city of Lille, in northern France, shortly after dawn on Thursday to oversee the removal of some 200 Roma living in mobile homes near a highway.
The eviction follows a series of police raids this week in Paris and Lyon during which hundreds of undocumented Roma immigrants from eastern Europe were forced from their homes.
The interior minister, Manuel Valls, who has cultivated a "tough on crime" image, defended the raids as legal and necessary owing to the health risks of hundreds of people living in makeshift accommodation.
"Unsanitary camps are unacceptable," he said in a statement on Wednesday. "Often located in the midst of working-class neighbourhoods, they are also a challenge to community life."
The raids recall a wave of expulsions under the former president Nicolas Sarkozy, which drew criticism from the European Union, the Catholic church and rights groups in the summer of 2010.
While Roma make up a tiny percentage of France's immigrant population, their nomadic lifestyle and the fact the some are thought to resort to pick-pocketing and aggressive begging have made them the subject of a controversy that helped increase support for the far right before the May presidential election.
Sarkozy's government repatriated thousands of Roma to Romania but many took advantage of porous European Union borders to return to France after taking aid for departure from the French state of €300 (£240) each.
Valls said the government would re-examine conditions for granting the aid to illegal immigrants. It would also review restrictions on working in France for citizens of Romania – an EU country which is the home country of many of Roma migrants.
Rights groups said no arrangements for temporary housing had been made for the group of Roma near Lille, which includes some 60 children.
"What will become of these families?" asked Father Arthur, a priest and advocate of Roma rights. "Everything is being taken away – it's a breach of fundamental human rights."
An estimated 15,000-20,000 Roma live in France. There are some 12 million Roma living in eastern Europe, particularly in Romania, Bulgaria, Slovakia and Hungary.
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