A leaked police note ordering officers to “systematically evict” Roma gypsies from a chic Paris district has sparked uproar in France and re-ignited a debate about their presence in the country.
The internal note, drawn up by a police chief in Paris’ sixth arrondissement and written “on the orders” of his superiors, instructs police “day and night” to “locate Roma families living in the street and systematically evict them”.
It is illegal in France for police to stop and single out any population according to their “real or supposed nationality”.
The existence of the note sparked an angry reaction from Roma defence group La Voix des Roms, which said it was “unworthy of a democratic state”.
SOS Racism, said it was “scandalised”, was “one more act of violence against Roma or supposed Roma” and underlined a “lack of political will to deal with the urgent social problem”. The Left-wing magistrates union SM denounced “the daily stigmatisation of certain categories of the population, relegated to the rank of sub-citizens”.
“What shocks me is to see Roma families in the street with very young children, which is unacceptable from a human and social point of view,” he told Le Parisien.
The area, he said, had seen a “massive” influx of Roma families over the past two months, which prompted him to complain to local police authorities.
He added: “The number of families has tripled. It’s a real problem.”
The mayor’s complaints led to the crackdown, according to a police source.
Police say the Roma presence has increased in the 6th arrondissement because they have been chased out of neighboring areas.
“It’s musical chairs”, Jean-Pierre Colombies, an official with the SNOP-SCSI police union, told Le Parisien. “We chase the Roma from one place to another, from one arrondissement to another and it resolves nothing.
Given the scale of the controversy, Bernard Cazeneuve, the interior minister, said the note had been “rectified”.
But he said the police had respected the law and were obliged to “fight illegal begging and the exploitation of minors and prevent families with young children from sleeping in the street”.
The affair has reignited a heated debate about how to deal with a growing Roma population in Paris and other big cities.
Stéphane Le Foll, spokesman for president François Hollande’s Socialist government, denied there was a Roma “invasion”, but said: “We must try and get them to return to where they came from, to Romania or Bulgaria”.
“The aim is to avoid people in the capital making people in the capital in a situation of difficulty and poverty making everyone extremely nervous. Parisians no longer accept this presence,” he said.
Jean-Marc Bailleuil, head of the main police officers’ union, SCSI, said the language in the note was “poorly chosen”. But he said the police “lack clear legal means to fight against delinquency coming from Eastern Europe and the influx of Roma”.
An Amnesty International study released last week accused French police of using excessive force against Roma people, especially when evicting them from illegal camps.
Last year French authorities expelled a record 20,000 Roma – practically the entire population currently in France.
Last September, Manuel Valls, the then interior minister, declared that Roma gypsies were incompatible with the French way of life and should return home.