Governments come and go, but French attitudes towards the integration of the Roma remain unchanged. Evictions, discrimination, hate speech and social exclusion continue, despite numerous calls to order from the European and international communities.
The majority of the 11,128 people evicted in France’s slum clearances in 2015 were Roma, according to data from the Human Rights League (LDH) and the Centre for European Roma Rights (CERR).
“The number of forced evacuations was again very high this year, especially in the third quarter,” said Philippe Goosens from the LDH. While it is lower than the two preceding years (19,380 in 2013 and 13,483 in 2014), the two organisations still find the 2015 figure abnormally high.
“This mean that 60% of the slum population was expelled last year,” Goosens explained.
Among European Union countries, France stands out in its hostility to the Roma. “In no other European country do we see expulsions on this scale,” the expert added.
Even in the Roma people’s countries of origin, like Bulgaria, where conditions for the minority are far from ideal, this action is unparalleled. “Bulgaria has been criticised by the Council of Europe for its evictions, but they are far from the French levels,” said Radost Zaharieva from the CERR.
This is not the first time that concerns have been raised over the actions of France. In September 2015, the High Commissioner for the UN Human Rights Council (UNHRC) Zeid Ra’ad Al-Hussein had strongly denounced the “systematic national policy” of Roma eviction.
In its 2015 report, the UNHRC called on the French government to “halt evictions until a sufficient number of reception areas are made available”.
Similar calls can be heard from the European Commission, which has long demanded improvements to French integration policy, and has even made billions of euros available through the European Social Fund. France even narrowly avoided an infringement procedure in 2010, after a request was circulated to local authorities to target the Roma in their eviction operations.
“Acts of racial discrimination are common, and we have observed an increase in violence and hate speech in France,” said Radost Zaharieva.
According to the two organisations, such deterioration in the discourse of the French political class are nothing new. “The political language in France relating to the Roma is far from sympathetic,” Zaharieva added.
The plight of the Roma also appears to be worsening with regard to rehousing after evictions. Since 2012, local authorities have been obliged, at least in theory, to offer social support to evicted people (such as schooling, health, employment, housing or shelter).
“But it looks like this rule has never been applied,” said Françoise Dumont of the LDH. The populations of only 29 of the 116 slums cleared in 2015 were offered temporary housing, compared to 71 of 155 in 2014.
“And these rehousing solutions often only amount to a few nights in a social hostel. Nothing is offered for the long term,” Dumont said.
The falling rehousing rates in France coincide with the acceleration of the refugee crisis. “The government was able to find 20,000 homes for the refugees, but they could not do the same for the Roma,” Goosens said.