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French interior minister to discuss Roma with Romania, Bulgaria

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Aug. 27, 2012, 2:03 p.m. | World — by Interfax-Ukraine

FRANCE, Évry : People from the Roma community with their belongings, walk outside their camp in Evry, near Paris, as Roma community are expelled by police on August 27, 2012. According to the Essonne Association of Solidarity with Romanian Roma families (ASEFRR), 72 people lived in shacks four months along the roads of the RER, behind an abandoned hospital.
© AFP

PARIS - French Interior Minister Manual Valls said on Monday, Aug. 28, he would ask Romania and Bulgaria to do more to integrate their Roma minorities as the new government in Paris grapples with how to handle Roma immigrants in France.

"I want to understand why strong integration policies aren't being taken in these countries to integrate these populations", Valls told Europe 1 radio, saying he was seeking "solutions".

Valls said he would visit Romania and Bulgaria in mid-September with European Affairs Minister Bernard Cazeneuve.

His announcement coincided with the dismantling by police of a camp housing about 70 Roma in the southern Paris suburb of Evry, the latest in a wave of such expulsions this month.

The Roma come mostly from Romania and Bulgaria, European Union members which human rights groups say discriminate against the minority. An estimated 15,000 to 20,000 Roma immigrants in France live mainly in squalid camps in city outskirts.

They are posing an early challenge to the three-month-old Socialist government of President Francois Hollande, which is struggling to find an alternative to conservative former President Nicolas Sarkozy's policy of periodic evictions.

Sarkozy's hard line on evictions offended many people in France and drew criticism from across the EU.

Despite having pledged a more humane approach, Valls has overseen several raids on Roma camps near Paris, Lyon and Lille, saying they must be dismantled on health and sanitation grounds.

Prime Minister Jean-Marc Ayrault promised last week to loosen restrictions on work and residence rights for Roma, who get by with odd jobs, begging and in some cases petty crime.

Valls, seen as one of the most right-leaning members of the centre-left cabinet, said on Monday he would continue to dismantle illegal camps but would offer housing alternatives, a promise Roma activists have dismissed in the past as hollow.

The suburb of Evry, around 25 km (15 miles) south of Paris, is the former political fiefdom of Valls, who served as mayor there before being appointed interior minister.

The Red Cross was at the Evry camp on Monday but could only offer emergency accommodation on a temporary basis, Serge Guichard, a Roma solidarity activist, told i<Tele television.

"At the moment they don't know what to do," Guichard said. "It's a return to the street and to begging."

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