French President Nicolas Sarkozy has caused outrage and has been accused of racism by threatening hundreds thousands from the Roma community with deportation.
The President action is in response to civil disturbances last week in which travellers attacked police in a Loire Valley town after a Roma youth was shot dead by the French Gendarme.
The government said the camps are sources of crime but critics say that once again French ethnic minorities are being singled out for Presidential abuse at a time where President Sarkozy personal approval ratings are descending fast. This move and the recent decision to ban the Burka are being seen as a desperate attempt by the President to shore up his failing popularity.
French Interior Minister Brice Hortefeux spoke after a special government meeting at which no Roma representative was present.
“Within the next three months, half of the illegal camps will be dismantled – camps and squats – that is to say some 300.”
A disgraceful statement issued by the President’s office after the meeting described the illegal camps as “sources of illegal trafficking, of profoundly shocking living standards, of exploitation of children for begging, of prostitution and crime.”
The President’s office also announced that new legislation would be drafted before the end of the year that would make it easier to expel illegal Roma travellers “for reasons of public order”.
There are hundreds of thousands of Roma or traveling people living in France who are part of long-established communities.
The other main Roma population is recent immigrants, many from Romania and Bulgaria, who have the right to enter France without a visa but must have work or residency permits to settle in the long-term.
However President Nicolas Sarkozy has been accused of racism after he ordered all illegal Gypsy immigrants be expelled from the country.
Roma leaders’ lawyer, Henri Braun warned of possible unrest, as the camps are closed and families evicted or deported.
“I am afraid we’re preparing to open a blighted page in the history of France, which could sadly lead to acts of reprisal in the days ahead.”
The President’s strong language has chilling undertones in a country where French authorities rounded up Roma and sent them to concentration camps during the Nazi occupation in World War II.