The 'devastating' stigmatisation of the Roma in France

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Visite de Médecins du Monde chez une famille rom à Strasbourg, octobre 2007 © LF Visite de Médecins du Monde chez une famille rom à Strasbourg, octobre 2007 © LF

Mediapart: And in France, what discrimination are they subject to?

J-P.L.: It is important to highlight that the authorities that have sanctioned France for its violation of international conventions are neither motivated by a partisan political view, nor a charity standpoint. Take the Council of Europe's European Committee of Social Rights, take the reports by the European Commissioner for Human Rights or the Council of Europe's European Commission against Racism and Intolerance.

The European Committee of Social Rights, which monitors compliance with the European Social Charter, mentions in its decision, for example, failure to comply with the right to housing which leads to social exclusion as well as ‘a racial discrimination', living conditions that don't comply with minimal standards, the absence of measures to relieve the ‘deplorable living conditions of Roma migrants'.

The decision concludes that seven points on the charter have been violated. Even in France, the National Consultative Commission on Human Rights has called the government into question on this discriminatory treatment, and the HALDE1 has asked the government to modify discriminatory texts, such as the 1969 law that governs the status of ‘travelling people' and makes them carry circulation documents and records. Up till now, these questions have not been followed up. The access to social rights remains complex and compromised in most domains: education, health, employment, training, the exercise of civil rights.

Mediapart: Has France put policies in place to assimilate these Roma migrants?

J-P.L.: In terms of policies the answer is no. A few isolated initiatives have been put in place, mainly led by local authorities who have had the courage to be more welcoming. But despite the value of such initiatives we're still talking about the isolated and the short term. It would be useful therefore to evaluate them and to let people know about them so that, if they bring together different partners, they can inspire more structured and organised long-term initiatives. It would also be useful if the government's attitude moved in this direction to make such initiatives possible.

Mediapart: What has been the result of the provision of repatriation aid? The government has announced the introduction of the Oscar biometric file, supposed to stop foreigners sent back to their country from claiming several times over the repatriation aid granted by the French State. Will this change anything?

J-P.L.: As far as I know, no assessment of the result has been made. The public powers should calculate this, in consultation with the Roma organisations in France and in other states, and that all of the things it can teach us are learnt. The Oscar file introduces yet another means of control and documentation, which won't reassure either the Roma or citizens as a whole. The Roma have lived through centuries of this, when they were branded on the shoulder during deportations, so any that returned could be recognised. They were also tattooed with of Z for ‘Ziguener' under the Nazi regime, and intensively documented.

Thirty years ago, I published an article entitled 'The speech on law and order'2 and taking the Roma as an example. I pointed out that the digital records, which were beginning then, wouldn't change anything about the way they were treated and since then it's transparency that has caused imprisonment, through the traceability made possible by the digital handling of files. In addition, the repatriation aid, which in reality is an aid for leaving, makes me think of French practices in previous centuries, of the droit de passade , a right by which local authorities offered a handful of coins to encourage the predecessors of these Roma to go away and try their luck with neighbouring districts. It's not by offering a handful of euros, or by forcing it on people to buy yourself a good conscience, that you can change migratory dynamics that are a synonym for survival.


1: Haute Authorité de Lutte contre les Discriminations et pour l'Egalité (High Authority for the Fight against Discrimination and for Equality).

2: Original title ‘Le discours de l'ordre'.


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