14 Sep 2010

France hits back at criticism of deportation policy

5:28 pm on 14 September 2010

France's minister for Europe says he is sick and tired of criticism directed at his country over the deportation of Roma (gypsy) migrants.

Pierre Lellouche said France was being unfairly targeted, after more United Nations and European Union officials condemned the policy.

About 1000 Roma have been deported since last month. The European Parliament has urged the government to halt the deportations - a call rejected by Paris.

On Monday, UN Human Rights High Commissioner Navi Pillay issued a statement saying the dismantling of Roma camps added to the stigmatisation of the Roma and the poverty in which they live.

In response to the fresh criticism, Mr Lellouche defended the policy, saying he believed the accusations were unfair.

"I am personally sick and tired of this kind of argument," he told the BBC.

He asked that Ms Pillay "look at the issue and stop condemning the one country in Europe who has kept asking the EU to mobilise itself on this".

On Sunday, a government memo on illegal immigrants was published in the media. The BBC reports it specifically mentions Roma camps as a "priority".

The order, dated 5 August, was sent from the Interior Ministry to regional police chiefs.

"Three hundred camps or illegal settlements must be cleared within three months, Roma camps are a priority," it said.

"It is therefore up to prefects in every part of the country to undertake... a systematic approach of dismantling illicit camps, as a priority those of the Roma," the circular said.

The memo contradicts French immigration minister Eric Besson's assurances to EU officials that immigrants were treated on a case-to-case basis.

Mr Besson told France 2 television on Monday that he was "not aware of this circular".