Roma: the infernal apparatus of expulsions
Nathalie Galesne - 20/09/2015
August 27, 2015: "Good morning friends, I have just enough time to write these words to ask for help from those who can come here. In a completely illegal way, over a hundred military members are about to throw us into the street. Who may come, please do come, at least to be on our side at this time of immense danger and to protest. We are not animals." This cry of alarm has been launched by Jozsef Farkas, a young Roma from the oldest bidonville of Seine-Saint-Denis, when the security forces intervened to dismantle the Place du Samaritain. The petition he had launched on social networks fifteen days prior to avoid deportation had already obtained 37 thousand subscriptions in the meantime. In vain.
The sword of Damocles hanging over for more than two years on the oldest slums of Ile de France lashes out viciously on the head of its inhabitants. Like most of the "Roma camps", Samaritain too - located in the industrial area of La Courneuve (Seine-Saint-Denis) - has been dismantled.
This is what the justice had established after the expulsion procedure initiated in 2013 by the communist mayor Gilles Pilloux. Until a few days ago, on the 5 thousand square meters of land stuck between the A86 and the wild landfill of the slum, the shacks looked like an ingenious interlocking of recycled materials striving to resemble houses. In the midst of this precarious habitat, divided into three streets, towered a Pentecostal church richly adorned and built seven years ago at the behest of Titel, the head around which revolve around 80 families. In total, 300 people used to live in the barracks of Samaritain, including around a hundred children.
Despite the mobilization of a collective of associations, which organized a press conference in mid-August to prevent the evacuation, the uncertainty is now glued to the skin of the "Samaritans" as the sticky gray of an impending storm. A few weeks earlier, on July 9, the Roma families of Rue Truillot Ivry-sur-Seine (the largest slum in the Val de Marne) were the ones to be thrown out in the wee hours.
Only 60 of its about 300 inhabitants had not yet left the place at the time of the police intervention made in the presence of powerless members of the collective to support Romanians of Ivry and Roeurop 94.
And, once again, the city has proposed few alternative housing solutions to families thrown into the street. According to Bozena Wolciechowski, assistant mayor in charge of fighting against all forms of discrimination, ten families should have been provided with accommodation, while thirty-two households should have had access to a transitional housing.
But these proposals are still far from identifying a fundamental solution. "The emergency accommodation does not respond to the problem at all", she acknowledges. The state which had pledged to install on a plot it owned transient accommodation for ten families has not yet done anything. Following the example of the municipality of La Courneuve, the communist mayor of Ivry-sur-Seine, Philippe Bouyssou protests against the government and suggests a regional conference.
Accused by the associations of participating in the policy of systematic dismantling initiated by Nicolas Sarkozy in the aftermath of his sinister Grenoble speech of July 2010, the communist mayors, for their part, blame the government that accuses them of disengagement. As the promises made by Hollande during his election campaign before becoming president have not been kept. Yet, in a letter dated March 27, 2012, sent by the latter to the National Collective of Human Rights Romeurope, which had asked him about the conditions of the Roma in France, the current president of the republic had responded with a long and encouraging letter of which we indicate the main points:
"The situation of these families, these children, these men living in unsanitary camps is not acceptable. I hope that alternative solutions are offered when a settlement is dismantled. We cannot continue to accept that families are driven from a place without any alternative. This pushes them to settle elsewhere, in conditions that are far from the best. The common law must be applied to all. There is no need to have specific policies aimed only at certain categories of people, whoever they are, and even more so if they are based on real or alleged ethnic-racial foundations, contrary to what was done by the outgoing candidate. Romanians and Bulgarians, whatever their origin, are European citizens... "(1).
The Socialist government seems to be hit by amnesia, and particularly its Prime Minister Manuel Valls who competes with "the outgoing candidate", Nicolas Sarkozy. Interviewed on 14 March 2013 about Roma's access to the villages of insertion, the prime minister, then interior minister, went straight to the point, spreading cultural racism: "This [insertion] can only relate to a minority since, alas, the occupants of the camps do not wish to integrate into our country for cultural reasons or because they are embedded in networks of begging and prostitution, and families who want to integrate are a minority. "
Manuel Valls can indeed boast a result never achieved by the previous government. In 2012, eight months after his assuming the post of interior minister, 36.822 people had been reported at the border. A third of them were Romanian or Bulgarian. The socialist government beat another record: the evacuation of Roma camps. According to the report presented January 14, 2014 by the League of Human Rights and the European Roma Rights Center, in 2013 the authorities have proceeded to dismantle 165 camps of the 400 surveyed in France, expelling 19.380 people, double the number in 2012. The evictions are considered by both associations "unjustifiable, unnecessary and expensive". This strong increase is due, among other factors, also to the fact that many persons have been transferred several times.
In fact, from Nord-Pas-de-Calais to Aquitaine, via the Rhônes-Alpes region and PACA, where at least 40 percent of the evacuations took place, the same scenario is played over and over with the implacable logic of the bulldozers that crush everything they encounter on their path, breaking, tearing and destroying caravans, the scattered carcasses of which provide glimpses of objects in a place of privacy emptied of its inhabitants in a few hours. But it is by far the Ile de France to win the prize for excellence of this "cleaning", with more than 60 percent of the camps evacuated.
In addition to their exaggerated cost (dismantling the shanty towns of Ris Orangis cost 125 thousand euro) (2), these operations are totally ineffective, because people evicted regroup again, sometimes only a few kilometers from the previous settings. One example could be some Roma families of Ris-Organgis that in September 2013 have changed place by 800 meters in the town of Grigny, only to be evacuated again.
The proposals of emergency housing relocation made only to certain families during these evacuations represent a major blow totally counterproductive: hotel nights without the ability to cook, often in places far away from the schools the children are enrolled in. So all the paths of possible integration - schooling of children, access to employment for parents, health support for families - is constantly hampered by these forced relocations.
And it has already been ten years that this policy hasn't changed a bit: "In 2005 - notes Martin Olivera in Roms en (bidon) villes - the Ile-de-France region, for example, invested a million euro in global development devoted to emergency housing, stating that [the goal is] 'the eradication of slums': the issue is no longer to re-absorb them gradually, but really to eliminate them, once and for all "(3).
But the number of shanty towns that they want us to believe snack like mushrooms in the muddy interstices of our cities is not even remotely comparable to what France had in the sixties. About 20 thousand people live nowadays in informal settlements, against 80 thousand in 1960. A quarter are inhabited by Bulgarians and Romanians, not Roma. But the shameful misery of slums is preferably classified under the label "Roma issue". And in fact these places are systematically defined as camps whose occupants can not be other than Roma. A real semantic arsenal contributes to perceive these poor Europeans coming mostly from Romania and Bulgaria since the early nineties, after the fall of the communist regimes, through the single prism of ethnicity. An even greater contradiction considering that any discrimination based on ethnic origin is banned by the French constitution.
In a report published in September 2013, Amnesty International noted: "The migrant Roma populations continue to be victims of forced evictions; continue to be repeatedly driven out of places where they live without being consulted, informed and repositioned appropriately, in violation of international commitments made by France" (4). The European Committee of Social Rights (CEDS) condemned the country on four occasions, after finding that the violation of the right to decent housing affects the Roma much more frequently than other disadvantaged groups. Yet the French government continues to violate its commitments. On August 26, 2012, seven ministers signed an inter-ministerial circular sent to all prefects, which demands to accompany Roma groups settled in "illegal camps" in a process of appropriate social cataloging and monitoring. At the same time, a mission of coordination "of the organization and accompaniment of the people involved in the evacuation of the camps" is entrusted to DIHAL (Interministérielle à l’Hébergement et à l’Accèsau Logement), under supervision of the prefect Alain Régnier.
Unfortunately, however, we must note that a year later, "the migrant Roma populations continue to be victims of forced evictions; continue to be repeatedly evicted from their homes without being consulted, informed and re-housed properly, in violation of international commitments made by France. Currently there is no effective safeguards against forced evictions and the situation on the ground shows that, in fact, the measures taken so far by the government are insufficient to repair this violation of international law on human rights. " (5)
In the face of lack of broader action at national level, municipal policies continue on the same line. Why should the mayors extract funds from the budgets of their municipalities to accompany these populations when the state does not recognize any of their rights and does nothing to help them? And then, the electoral interest comes first. Most of the municipal authorities, both from the right and the left, has only one idea in mind: to expel the intruders.
Under the tangle of motorways, in the no-man's-land of industrial zones, to the suburbs, in the woods or on the sidewalks of Paris, Carine Fouteau, a Mediapart journalist, has traveled the length and breadth of the capital and the departments of the 'Ile de France, in particular the Seine-Saint-Denis and l'Essonne (the former stronghold of the Prime Minister). And there she met some local officials, association representatives and commissioners of police operating in the area.
And most importantly, she has established strong ties with many Roma families that she followed in their forced wanderings. The result was a dense and documented reportage on how many of these people suffer harassment, including vexation and abuse of all kinds: fines to be paid in cash for lapsed infringements or intimidation by the police, always with the same tactics: making the lives of slum dwellers impossible so that they leave the place on their own. The city of Ris-Orangis went even further, putting enormous blocks of stone at the entrance of their camp.
"Seen from the eyes of the public authorities the Roma are not like the other poor - says the journalist - they are not like the other homeless, not like other families, not like the other foreigners, but much worse than others. Just like the bohemians in the past, they bring with them a ghost universe of theft, dirt, noise, violence which gives them a place apart, out of the ordinary, out of the common"(6).
The author may perhaps be accused of naivety but the testimony by the prefect Alain Régnier confirms her observations: "In all my career - the official says - I have never encountered such everyday racism, so many clichés, also in our environment. The main problem that we have to deal with is the blockade from the French society. Alain Régnier does not mince words when talking about the government's budget: "We are still far from a solution. We advance step by step, making many steps backwards. The elected work in immediacy, some do something but the greater part of them discharge the responsibilities on neighboring municipalities. As for the prefects, they find themselves in a schizophrenic situation. They are asked to find accommodation to people that they will have to expel" (7).
Self-criticism has never been an added value of the high state offices. To the disappointment of associations, Alain Regnier, dubbed by the media "the prefect of the Roma" announced his resignation on July 2, 2014, and left office a few months later.
No doubt, the policy of systematic expulsion of Roma living in informal settlements has a terrible impact on their living conditions. Each evacuation accentuates further their poor condition. During the evictions families lose the few possessions they have. These transfers mean for them to start all over from scratch, fill again the administrative dossier, which are real battlegrounds for those who do not know neither the language nor the French social codes.
But it is undoubtedly the children to pay the most dramatic consequences because their constantly interrupted schooling cannot fully bear fruits. The dramatic scenes lived during the expulsions and the anguish of being expelled all of a sudden cause serious attention disorders in these children. Their access to medical care and health treatments is also hampered. According to a report by the Regional Health Agency (ARS) of Lyons, people living in the street have a life expectancy of 51 years, against 81 years of the national average.
A cruel fate for the Roma and non-Roma of the country.
Translated from Italian by Övgü Pınar
Supported by :
- From a letter by François Hollande.
- Fassin E., Fouteau C., Guichard S., Windels A., Roms & riverains. Une politique municipale de la race. La Fabrique éditions, 2014;
- Olivera, Martin. Roms en bidon(ville).Editions Rue d’Ulm/Presse de l’Ecole normale supérieurs, 2011, p. 14
- Condamnés à l’errance. Les expulsions forcés de Roms en France, report by Amnesty International,September2013.
- Roms & riverains. Une politique municipale de la race, op.cit, p.;
- Roms & riverains. Une politique municipale de la race, op.cit, p. 101,;