French police and Romanian police are working together to crack down on criminal activity in Paris and elsewhere committed by gangs of Roma (popularly known as “Gypsies”) who primarily came from Romania and Bulgaria.
In an election year, as President Nicolas Sarkozy faces an uphill battle to remain in power, the government will likely seek to appease a French public that is fed up with illegal immigration and crime.
Last month, Sarkozy warned: We cannot sustain unlimited social immigration,” in a blatant attempt to appeal to French voters who are attracted to the extremist anti-immigrant Front National party.
The Paris government has been working in tandem with Bucharest officials to round up and expel thousands of Roma living illegally in France. There has also been a concerted effort to remove Roma beggars and thieves from highly prominent tourist spots like the Eiffel Tower and the Champs Elysees.
Roma children are typically used by adult gang-masters to beg and pickpocket in teams. As police are reluctant to arrest children, the problem has festered for years without solution.
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Romanian police officer Ana Grigore who is helping her French counterparts in patrolling high-crime areas of Paris, particularly the railways where Roma congregate, told BBC: Sometimes the people [we arrest] are already subject to international search warrants and are in the Schengen database. With the help of our French colleagues we catch them [interrogate them] and send them back to Romania.
However, according to reports, most of the Roma who are returned to Romania (with 200 euros as a kind of ‘parting gift’) somehow find their way back to France anyway.
One Roma told BBC: If I am expelled, I will definitely return to France. I have been here for 10 years. We are so poor, and there is no work for us in Romania. We have to come back. What other choice do we have?
France’s Interior Minister Claude Gueant has claimed that 10 percent of all crime in France is committed by Roma (principally by children).
It is a cruel, unacceptable situation, Gueant told reporters during a press conference. These children are exploited by mafia bosses who draw them into delinquency and slavery. That cannot be allowed to continue.
Roma in France tend to live in makeshift camps on the outskirts of cities and towns. They are generally unsanitary and local schools will not accept Roma children.
In October 2010, France angered many human rights activists as well as some European Union officials by ordering the mass expulsion of Roma from the country, following a violent clash between French police and Roma in the village of Saint Aignan in Brittany earlier that summer.
President Sarkozy released a statement at that time in which he declared that Roma camps were sources of illegal trafficking, of profoundly shocking living standards, of exploitation of children for begging, of prostitution and crime.
Roma have lived in Europe for centuries and are believed to have originated in northern India. In many Eastern European countries, they are the dominant minority group.