If this were happening anywhere else in the world, with any other ethic group (well, almost any other ethnic group) western Europe would surely snub its nose. But this week, in France, hundreds upon hundreds of Roma immigrants, (known, in English, as Gypsies) were expelled from France. The Government of Nicolas Sarkozy says they were in the country illegally, arguing that by EU law they can be evicted if they are there more than three months and have no job and create a burden or are there less than three months and represent a "threat to public safety".
The pope, French churches, a UN committee and even several ministers in Mr Sarkozy’s own government have voiced opposition to no avail. France is dealing with them much as some small towns deal with the homeless, only instead of buying them a bus ticket, he sends them off to wherever they came from (presumably eastern Europe) with three hundred euros and claims that many are leaving of their own free will, by which he means that they are leaving of their own free will now to avoid leaving by force later.
This is probably cheaper than arresting them for building illegal "camps", shanty towns on the outskirts of real towns, which, along with the involvement of some travelers in a riot, is the safety hazard they are being expelled for, but why on earth did the Roma travel a great distance to live in camps with no jobs in France? Amnesty international reports widespread discrimination in eastern Europe as well. For example, in schools in Slovakia. The Czech Republic had a history of sterilizing Romani women and despite significant efforts found cases as recently as 2001, not to mention frequent outbreaks of violence against the Roma, and declarations of crisis situations in Italy.
Roma culture is extremely conservative, and emphasizes traditional values and the extended family. With a history rooted in both Hindu and European traditions, it is a unique culture that seems very foreign to many outsiders. Whether it shuns outsiders because of historical prejudices that have targeted them, or because of natural parts of their culture is a chicken and egg problem best left to cultural historians. The fact of their culture remains, and this fact makes the continued calls for integration (which were once mandated by monarchs) all the more misplaced, offensive and ignorant. Huge demographic differences are apparent between modern Roma and Europe at large, and I would venture to speculate that the only thing that keeps the Roma culture from evaporating completely amid such economic and social pressure (they have survived several genocides) are their increadibly strong internal ties -- precisely the same ties which make integration a challenge at best.
If Europe wants to answer the Roma question -- excuse me, I mean solve the problem, they need to understand and accept the differences and provide opportunities, and make the Roma people feel at welcome. They are neither comic book characters nor villains nor saints, but like anyone else they needs jobs, education, healthcare, and the safety and security of a good home.
About the title of this article: The "Decade of Roma Inclusion" is an effort of EU countries with a high population of Roma Citizens. This does not include France. Well intentioned though it may be, many have critisized the effort as a waste of time, or even veiled racism.
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