French Urge Romanians To Draft Roma Integration Plan

French urge Romanians to draft Roma integration plan

M & C
Sep 9, 2010, 18:53 GMT

Bucharest – French officials visiting Romania Thursday to discuss the issue of Roma migration urged their hosts to draft a national plan for integrating the minority into Romanian society.

The question of migrating Roma has become politically explosive this summer after French authorities began repatriating Romas living in illegal camps, either via a voluntary 300-euro (385-dollar) payout or an expulsion order for those deemed a threat to public order, prompting condemnation from many quarters, most recently the European Parliament on Thursday.

French Immigration Minister Eric Besson said there was 'no legal link' between the Roma problem and Romania's planned 2011 entry into the Schengen zone, which allows free travel between European countries.

However, he said allowing Romania into Schengen would create a 'political problem' that needed a solution.

He said Romania could only hope for more European Union money for programmes to assist its Roma population if it came up with some kind of national plan.

Romanian Prime Minister Emil Boc said Romania recognizes its responsibilities, but reminded the French officials there was a 'European responsibility' to provide freedom of movement to all EU citizens.

However, Romania also said it plans to increase by 10 the number of police officers it is sending to France to help with the Roma population there.

French Secretary of State for European Affairs Pierre Lellouche also argued for an integration plan, saying it was 'self-evident that a government has to care for its people.

'These people like to head to the West, to France and Spain, because it's better there than at home, even if they have to live in tough circumstances (in the West).'

Romanian officials said they hope to provide more support to non- governmental organizations providing aid for the Roma and that they hope to petition for more EU assistance.

The talks seemed set to be tense from the start. Especially when, before the arrival of Besson and Lellouche, Romania's president Traian Basescu warned that: 'If they come to lecture us, it (the visit) will not be productive. We must find a solution together.'

The delegation was on a mission is to explain France's Roma repatriation policy. Besson announced that Basescu and French President Nicolas Sarkozy are to discuss the issue by telephone on Friday.

'France is not handling this like a European state,' Basescu said further, in comments before the delegation's arrival. 'The greatest responsibility lies with the Roma themselves though. In a civilized Europe, everyone is responsible for their own fate. No one is stopping them (the Roma) from sending their children to school and not begging.'

He called for 'realistic solutions' to the problem, saying, 'We must have the intelligence to find a formula, which does not force them to settle because they don't want to do that. The whole of Europe is on the move.'

And he recalled a previous attempt by the French to get Roma to settle in one place, saying: 'They bought them sheep. The Roma laughed because they have never bred sheep, and sold them the next day.'

Romanian Interior Minister Vasile Blaga said 4,174 Romanians 'voluntarily' returned from France this year, up from 3,784 in the same time frame last year.