France Dismantles Roma Camps, Drawing International Criticism

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In a move that has sparked international criticism and concern, French President Francois Hollande continued dismantling Roma camps on Thursday, sending their inhabitants back to Eastern Europe. According to France 24, Hollande had promised during his campaign to secure an "alternative arrangement" before displacing illegal immigrants living in the camps.

Hollande had said during his campaign that he intended to continue then-President Nicolas Sarkozy's policy of dismantling the camps, but the methods being employed have international rights groups drawing comparisons to the deportations of World War II. Thursday's efforts, which followed on the heels of similar actions in Paris, Marseille, and Lyon, dismantled camps in Lille.

Here is some of the key information regarding Hollande's dismantling of the Roma camps in France.

* It is estimated that some 20,000 Roma live in France. Aspects of the agreement between Romania and the European Union, which allowed the nation to become part of the EU, prohibit them from working in France until 2013.

* The Roma are encouraged by the French government to go willingly. France offers a 300 euro bonus to any adult who voluntarily "repatriates," along with a 150 euro bonus per child in their family who repatriates as well. Critics of this policy, including Valeriu Nicolae, founder of the Policy Center for Roma and Minorities in Bucharest, have said that giving the Roma money to leave France is just "wasting huge amounts of money to give them holidays back in Romania," as quoted by France 24.

* The two camps dismantled in Lille on Thursday had several hundred Roma living in them. Some 200 of those inhabitants were voluntarily placed on a plane back to the Romanian capital of Bucharest, according to BBC News.

* Police reportedly arrived in Lille in riot gear on Thursday to facilitate the dismantling of the two camps there. According to a report by Reuters, police had conducted raids on Roma living in Paris and Lyon in order to remove them from their homes.

* The raids and repatriations come on the heels of remarks by French Interior Minister Manuel Valls, who claimed earlier in the week that he was concerned about the health risks of the camps. Valls told the media that "Unsanitary camps are unacceptable," and that "they are also a challenge to community life" due to their placement, according to Reuters.

* Rights groups have said that the raids are just "deportations in disguise" and that many of the Roma will just make their way back to France due to discrimination in their home countries. The Los Angeles Times quoted Malik Salemkour, vice president of the French Human Rights League, who told French journalists on Thursday that the government was just "displacing the families" rather than preventing illegal immigration.

Vanessa Evans is a musician, traveler, and freelance writer with an interest in European studies and events.

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