BUCHAREST -- As soon as he arrived in the French embassy in Bucharest, Arno Klarsfeld asked for a glass of water and ibuprofen. After a three-hour flight and a visit to Ferentari, the Roma community in the Romanian capital, the new director of the French immigration service looked exhausted.
He didn’t mice words in talking about his visit to the Roma, which suffer severe discrimination in Romania and often come to France in search of a better life. “I saw families with eight children who lived in one room. That isn’t good,” he said. “You shouldn’t have eight children if you only have one room. Then, the mafia leaders come and say, ‘you’re going to give me two kids to go beg or prostitute themselves.’ France is going to be tough. Legislative measures to end all of this will be reinforced.”
During his visit last week, Klarsfeld visited Bucharest and Timisoara to evaluate programs adopted by the French immigration service that are designed to assist emigrants who would like to return to their home country. In 2010, around 10,000 Roma were sent back to Romania and Bulgaria from France. Paris tries to encourage these departures by offering 300 euros to people who agree to return to their country of origin. Often, however, these “expelled” people make the trip home only to turn around and come back to France a couple of weeks later, completely legally.
At least when it comes to numbers, the there-and-back phenomenon actually helps the French government, which expect by the end of the year to reach its goal of 30,000 expulsions. These expulsions, which some advocates say have been going on for years but which gain publicity during the summer of 2010, have been criticized as racially motivated and condemned by the European Union and United Nations.
France promises Roma who sign up for the “voluntary departure” program 3,600 euros in assistance if they can present a business plan that will settle them in Romania permanently. Since the beginning of the program, in 2006, the French immigration service has financed 498 such projects and spent 2 million euros.
Although these policies have been criticized by many non-profits, they are supposed to be reinforced under Arno Klarsfeld’s direction. “France will continue to encourage Roma to return to Romania by giving them 300 euros,” he affirmed. “But if the crisis continues, these measures will be criticized more and more. The picture these organizations paint does not correspond to reality, and they tend to annoy a large part of the population and increase the popularity of the extreme right.” The immigration director says he is ready to take on his challengers.
Read the original article in French.
Photo - Serge Melki