"Remember that Hilter was never alone,” warns one European journalist and blogger in the wake of recent violence throughout Europe, racist actions by right wing groups, and now, just this week – more forcible expulsions of the group known as “Roma” or gypsies from France.
Meanwhile today, human rights groups, the European Union and several independent United Nations rights experts have issued statements that contain more harsh condemnation for France and concern for the actions against the Roma populations who are seeing a growing wave of persecution all over Europe.
View slideshow: The French expulsions this week, round-ups, violence and persecutions of European Roma Gypsies have many rights groups warning - remember Hitler was not alone
An Irish rights activist commented, "Europeans should know the way to genocide is a slippery slope, and it begins with just these kinds of devaluation of other human beings based on race, religion, or cultural differences."
Many European Roma children live in dire poverty conditions, and now face forced expulsions from their homes in France
Photo credit: Photo by Stefano Montesi of ERRC
There were also terse statements of warning from other rights activists against the degenerating spiral of racism against the Roma or any ethnic group, which led to Hilter’s ovens in the 1940s, and a statement by EU's Vivianne Reding that "enough is enough," echoing her 2010 video statement. Another EU official in an email called the French deportations of Roma "Nazi-like" and "a disgrace."
She also pointed to the EU Directive on Freedom of Movement, contains several provisions to ensure the right of EU citizens to move freely within the European Union.
Veronika Szente Goldston, Europe and Central Asia advocacy director at Human Rights Watch, also stated, “Rather than trying to get rid of unwanted Roma while no one is watching, the government should take a critical look at its sorry record in this area, and act to rectify abuses.”
French police just yesterday dismantled another Roma camp near Paris, sweeping 70 people, - including 19 children - onto the streets, and this happening just days after the government had promised "a fresh approach" in its controversial handling of the ethnic minority migrants.
“Why did God even create us, if Gypsies are to live like this?” cried 35-year-old Babica to a group of French press as bulldozers moved in to tear down the camp in Gennevilliers, on the outskirts of Paris.
Police in the Paris suburb of Evry also moved in at dawn to clear the camp following an expulsion order issued by local mayor Francis Chouat on safety and public health grounds. The move pre-empted by 24 hours a court hearing scheduled to review the mayor’s decision. The government pledged last week that it would seek court orders for clearances but that requirement was over-ridden by the mayor’s ruling that the camp’s proximity to a commuter rail line made it dangerous.
Interior Minister Manuel Valls, who has sanctioned the clearance of several Roma camps since the new Socialist government came to power, backed the move, describing sanitary conditions in the Evry settlement as “unbearable.” An estimated 15,000 ethnic Roma currently live in similar camps across France.
Meanwhile, the U.N. Special Rapporteur on racism, Mutuma Ruteere, has warned in a statement to press that “these evictions and expulsions are inevitably fuelling the already worrying climate of hostility against Roma in France.”
In a statement issued on their website, the European Roma Rights Center (ERRC) condemned the expulsions and violence against the Roma that is continuing to escalate in Europe.
“In the last week (in France), around 500 Roma have been forcibly evicted from their homes. Some of them have been sent back to Romania, with a cash payment of 300 Euros. The scheme is apparently a voluntary returns system, but how voluntary is it to decide to leave when you’ve been kicked out of your home by the prefecture and you’re surrounded by police? What does voluntary return even mean when you’re well below the poverty line and there’s a cash payment attached?”
“If you have any doubt about the situation of Roma, consider that in the last few years they have variously been evicted (in Romania) to rubbish dumps and toxic chemical plants, separated from their towns by a wall, and shot at and killed by police officers. All in all, it’s unsurprising that Roma leave Romania,” the statement read.
U.N. representatives today urged the French Government to ensure compliance with international non-discrimination standards when it comes to the dismantling of Roma settlements and the expulsion of migrant Roma from what they’ve termed “illegal settlements.”
Roma – more familiarly known as “Gypsies”, are the largest minority group in Europe, have lived throughout the continent for centuries and have long faced discrimination and high levels of poverty.
Romania and Bulgaria, which joined the European Union (EU) in 2007, have particularly large Roma populations, a U.N. spokesperson said, and have faced numerous racial-based crimes and even murders.
In recent years, the Roma have come under new pressure in EU Member States like Italy and France as those countries have emphasized expulsion as a means of addressing “migration concerns”. For Roma from Romania and Bulgaria living in France, 2010 marked the beginnings of persecutions and escalation of state-sponsored expulsions.
A number of evictions and expulsions this month - including in the cities of Lille, Lyon and Paris - have been documented by non-governmental organizations and the media, and seem set to continue, according to a news release issued by the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR).
“Forced eviction is not an appropriate response and alternative solutions should be sought that conform with human rights standards,” said the U.N. Special Rapporteur on adequate housing, Raquel Rolnik. “Legal safeguards must be in place, including the provision of adequate housing alternatives to ensure that individuals, particularly children, women and those with illnesses or disability, are not left homeless or vulnerable.”
Rolnik also noted that ‘though these acts are being justified on the basis of unsanitary conditions, few if any visible efforts are being developed to find alternative solutions for these communities, such as improving housing conditions.”
Similar actions against the Roma undertaken in August 2010 were also met with widespread European and international criticism.
“These reports are disturbing, especially because it is not the first time that Roma are collectively expelled from France,” said the UN Independent Expert on minority issues, Rita Izsák. “The Roma are European Union citizens and Europe’s most marginalized minority.”
Izsák, who is herself of Hungarian Roma origin, added, “Regrettably, these acts demonstrate that they do not always enjoy the same right of free movement and settlement, and continue to experience discriminatory treatment.”
Imminent Hindu statesman Rajan Zed; and Rabbi Jonathan B. Freirich, prominent Jewish leader in Nevada and California in USA; in a joint statement in Nevada today, said it was “disturbing that France was still reportedly expelling Roma despite the promise in 2010 to change its laws on the free movement of European Union citizens in view of a European Commission ultimatum following a crackdown on Roma during the months before.”
Zed, who is President of Universal Society of Hinduism, and Rabbi Freirich, further said in their protest statement that it was even more upsetting to learn that the expulsion order of Roma who had taken refuge in the church just south of Paris was signed by the priest.
Also see Vatican expels Roma who took refuge in ancient Roman church
In their statement, they pointed out that "Jesus Christ clearly told the world to help the helpless, defenseless and downtrodden and love them and he showed the way also."
They quoted from The Bible: "When he saw the crowds, he had compassion for them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd (Matthew 9:36)".
Zed and Rabbi Freirich argued that France had become an "embarrassment for Europe" due to its xenophobia and racism - as was apparent from continuing Roma maltreatment. It was sad to see the "great nation of France", who claims to be the "mother of human rights", falling so low, they said, adding, "This Roma maltreatment was not acceptable and further expulsions should be immediately halted."
Singling out of helpless Roma was appalling and immoral, was "officially stamped racism", and was a major offense, Zed and Freirich stated, and also stressed, "The European Commission, which was guardian of the treaties, will lose its legitimacy if it does not show guts and take strong action against France over stubbornly continuing racism coated Roma abuse."
A political writer from Gord’s Poetry Blog, had this to say about the persecution and expulsions: “…What will the French government do if the Roma refuse to be expelled? Will the government arrest and intern them or allow mobs of other french citizens to take action against the Roma as in Hitler's notorious staged phony-populist uprising against the German Jews known as "Kristallnacht"… Are the lessons supposedly learned after the Shoah / Holocaust and the extermination of Jews, Roma, etc. all forgotten as Europeans gin up their hatred of the Roma?”
The author expresses fear that, “this just the beginning of another era of racial hatred and intolerance … Prejudice and bigotry against the Roma is unjustifiable and should be socially and politically unacceptable.”
The Special Rapporteur on the human rights of migrants, François Crépeau, highlighted that collective expulsion is banned under international law and any repatriation should be “voluntary, in compliance with international standards, and based on individual assessment and independent monitoring.”
According to U.N. experts, there are up to 12 million Roma living in Europe, and other sizeable Roma populations which live in Latin America and other regions - most of them still on the margins of society.
Meanwhile, just last year, Canada put restrictions on Czech immigration to halt Roma seeking asylum from the violence against them in that country.
Ales Horvath and his young family had been tyringto join relatives who moved to Canada in the mid 1990s.
"Ninety percent of us have been attacked," he says, "including me, my brother, my cousins. Everyone's experienced physical attacks. On top of that, I can't go into just any restaurant or disco with my wife - many places won't let us in."
This, he feels, is no place to bring up his children. "Our children get called ‘black bastards’ as soon as they start school - other kids are taught by their parents that gypsies are bad, that they're dirty, they steal, and so on."
Since 2009, Roma in communities in Belgrade, Serbia, say they have been living under the constant threat of forced eviction by the authorities. Some, like ‘Tomica’, have already lost their homes.
“They came with trucks and police and vans. We all had to leave in 20 minutes. I lost everything. I wasn’t even there when the house was taken down,” she said.
In Northern Ireland, over 100 Belfast Roma were beaten and driven from their homes by thugs using bricks and bottles and had to seek refuge in a nearby church, and persecutions have continued to alarm human rights groups in the UK.
Just last week in Cegléd, Hungary, a Roma neighborhood was attacked by over 400 rightwing thugs, causing many Roma to flee for their lives at night. The group leading the violence has vowed to return this week, sources from the area say.
“Remember that Hilter was never alone,” warns journalist and blogger Anuraag Sanghi.
Marian Mandache, from the Romanian Gypsy NGO Romani Crisis, said the Northern Ireland violence was another disturbing trend of attacks in recent years across Europe that are growing steadily worse.
“Starting with Italy in 2007, there have been waves of … racist attacks against Roma,” said Mandache. “Afterwards, there were attacks in the Czech Republic, Hungary, Slovakia and Romania.”
also see: Gypsies face Northern Ireland ethnic violence
What is known about the history of the persecuted Roma shows they have always been a nomadic group – and a target for persecution. According to Roma historians and experts, in the year 1000, an event in northern India at about the time of the Muslim invasion to the region likely triggered the group’s mass exodus. The Roma then journeyed towards the Caucasus and China, as well as through the Middle East and Greece towards the Balkans; and by the 16th century, had could be found in all regions of Central and Western Europe, with a population estimated to be in the tens of thousands.
Some historians have argued that in the 15th and 16th centuries, many Roma had recommendation letters from European kings — and even the Pope — and used these to enter European towns and cities of all sizes.
However, persecutions followed the Roma throughout history – including expulsions and massacres during the Middles Ages, and mass –expulsion from England during the 17th century “Age of Enlightenment.”
“This enlightenment has never extended to gypsies, or what we call ‘travelers’ in the European culture. They have been reviled, attacked and shunned throughout the ages, and it seems this racism still is acceptable in this 21st century age of supposed political correctness.” Said Dr. Kenneth Feagan, an Irish Roma expert, and of Roma descent on his maternal side.
Feagan – who lost family members in the Holocaust, pointed out that – as with the Jews - the Roma were also singled out as a minority group for persecution by the Nazis, who cited the ethnic group as being “racially inferior.” The group was not only used as forced labor in concentration camps, but also subjected to horrific scientific and medical experiments and to mass killing.
While no accurate figure is available for how many Roma were killed by the Nazis, the United States Holocaust Encyclopedia estimates about 220,000 - which is approximately 25 percent of the population in Europe were killed – with tens of thousands more killed in the Russian campaigns, and more than 19,000 in Auschwitz alone. Authorities of the State of Croatia, an Axis partner of Germany, physically annihilated virtually the entire Roma population of the country - around 25,000 people – by the war’s end.
A trip to Europe can often shock American visitors when they see signs beside the entrances to establishments to the effect of ‘We Do Not Serve Gypsies’ .
In a blunt comment on existing racism against the Roma in Europe, UK human rights blogger Dan Barron states, “Whether you call it racism or not, anti-Gypsy bigotry exists in a big way in this country and all over Europe, particularly fiercely in countries such as Romania, Hungary and Italy but what is most worrying about it is that it is more than acceptable. Although banning words from being heard is hardly any solution to racism, you will casually hear words like ‘gippo’ and ‘pikey’ on television and on the radio where you would never hear the words ‘paki’ and ‘nigger’.”
Said Renzy in a recent Amnesty International report on Racism against the Roma, “Discrimination, xenophobia and intolerance have proved particularly difficult to eliminate in Europe. The Roma, one of Europe’s oldest minorities, have endured a long history of discrimination and disadvantage throughout Europe, which has only recently begun to be acknowledged and addressed. The Roma form one of the largest ethnic minority groups in Europe. Nearly 80 percent of the European Roma population (around 10 million people) live in EU Member and candidate Member States.”
Roma settlements in France vary in size but are often located near urban zones. Shelters are constructed out of whatever materials are available, and many do not have running water or electricity. In the case of travelers, the government is supposed to provide designated sites for them to congregate, but rights groups have said this process is not fully implemented.
Following a spate of violence in July of last year involving French police and some Roma and traveler individuals, French President Nicolas Sarkozy announced a crackdown on unauthorized settlements. The government estimated the number of such settlements at 539.
French police dismantled numerous settlements, primarily occupied by Roma from Bulgaria and Romania, and the government expelled more than 1,000 of their inhabitants between July and September, sending them back to their “home countries”.
Sarkozy, for whom security is a hallmark issue, justified his hardline stance on grounds that the settlements were” illegal and presented a security risk.”
A statement from the president's office also identified the camps as sources of illegal trafficking, appalling living standards, exploitation of children through forced begging, prostitution, and crime.
Sarkozy also characterized the deportations as voluntary, because a significant number of the Roma Bulgarian and Romanian citizens were given 300 euros (US$380) in exchange for their cooperation in the return process.
A furor also ensued last September when official French government memos leaked to the French press and published in September revealed that Roma settlements had been identified as priority targets of the campaign. This information contradicted statements the French government had made saying that the intensified measures were directed at illegal settlements in general, and not just at those where Roma lived.
One leaked memo stated in part, "Three hundred camps or illegal settlements must be evacuated within three months; Roma camps are a priority," the memo reads. "It is down to the préfect [state representative] in each department to begin a systematic dismantling of the illegal camps, particularly those of the Roma."
Following the leak, the United Nations, the European Union, the Vatican, various rights groups, and politicians opposed to Sarkozy's policies began criticizing the French government. In a variety of forums, they argued that the Roma were targeted for expulsion from France based on their ethnicity, in violation of EU laws prohibiting discrimination and guaranteeing freedom of movement.
Some members of the European Parliament have also expressed dismay that the Commission was not pursuing France on discrimination grounds, calling the official memos clear evidence of discrimination, which the EU Charter of Fundamental Rights prohibits.
Human rights organizations such as Amnesty International also criticized the Commission's decision not to move forward with proceedings against France for violating EU antidiscrimination law.
The European Roma Rights Center (ERRC), a Hungary-based public-interest law organization that provided legal briefs to the Commission on the Roma expulsion issue, argued that France's actions violated not only the Freedom of Movement Directive and the Charter of Fundamental Rights (known as the Charter) but also the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR).