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Dispelling the Roma Myth

By Kathryn Galland
September 30, 2010

Of course not all Roma are criminals. The Roma, or Gypsies, as they would prefer not to be called, are a nomadic people moving freely throughout Western Europe and elsewhere. Unfortunately, their criminal stereotype well precedes them, and that is making several European nations nervous.

How nervous? French President Nicolas Sarkozy expelled some 10,000 Roma last year and just last month paid one thousand Roma 300 euros to "voluntarily opt" to move back to Romania and Bulgaria. His government promises to dismantle an additional 300 illegal Roma camps in the future months.

Sarkozy has openly linked this ethnic people to crime, and he is not alone. For two years, Italy has expelled Roma "security threats" from its country. Denmark, Germany and Sweden have followed suit, although their campaigns have received considerably less international media attention.

The French president says the illegal camps foster child exploitation and prostitution. In an effort to combat crime, Sarkozy hopes his actions will maintain public order.

They will have no such effect. In fact, in response to Sarkozy's policy, tens of thousands of people protested in more than a hundred French cities, not counting demonstrations in other European states, such as neighboring Spain. Inadvertently, Sarkozy has created an uproar and the opposition is growing strong.

Sarkozy should be and has been criticized by the European Union, the European Commission, the Vatican and even within his political party for what Romania calls "racism and xenophobia."

Mass expulsions based on ethnicity violate EU law, even if Sarkozy claims he does so legally.

Regardless of the legal challenges to this policy, Sarkozy walks a thin line between fighting crime and humanely ousting illegal Roma in his country.

The problem is many Roma who are paid to leave are likely to return to France, entering without visa into the EU country, as permitted by law.

It is time to look for another solution. Expelling illegal immigrants will not solve France's long-term predicament: how to integrate and foster an acceptance of various immigrant groups, including legal migrants, into French society.