Journalists Condemn French Crackdown on Roma and Warn Over Rise of Racism

The International Federation of Journalists and its regional body the European Federation of Journalists today condemned a crackdown by French authorities on the country’s minority Roma community, warning that it will encourage xenophobia and intolerance. They also accuse police of obstructing journalists following a dawn raid on one major campsite yesterday.

The IFJ says journalists were prevented by police from covering their raid on a Gypsy encampment in the central city of Saint-Etienne which saw forced evictions from a squatter camp where the local council had provided fresh water and chemical toilets.

This was the first police action since President Nicolas Sarkozy announced a series of tough measures over the next few weeks, including plans to evict Roma from 300 unauthorised sites.

“The government’s intemperate and intolerant attitude will only encourage a new bout of racism and xenophobia,” said Aidan White, IFJ General Secretary. “This sort of action against people who come from other European Union states is both questionable legally and reckless because it fuels tensions between communities.”

The IFJ says that pandering to extremist racist opinion will also encourage xenophobic propaganda and put new pressure on journalists and media.

“Already we have reports of police in Saint Etienne preventing journalists from covering their raid against the campsite,” said White. “This is completely unacceptable. France is not a police state and media must be able to report freely.  If journalists and media cannot get to the truth how will people know whether law and order is respected?”

The IFJ says that statements from French officials that there were plans to evict all Roma “without proper papers” from the country and back to Romania appeared to challenge the rights of freedom of movement within the European Union.

Reports say that around 15,000 Gypsies and Roma of Eastern European origin are living in France, many of them in authorised sites but some have moved into squatter camps because of overcrowding.  The latest action follows an incident last month when a group of French Gypsies rioted after one of them was shot dead by police in Saint-Aignan, central France.

The IFJ says that the latest action by the government, which is accused by some critics of turning to populist anti-migrant policies to revive its political fortunes, will add to concerns over the rise of anti-Roma sentiment and xenophobia across Europe.

“The reality is that policies that tap into people’s uncertainties and fears will make life difficult for many minorities, lead to discrimination and will make media and journalism susceptible to the undue influence of racist propaganda from unscrupulous politicians,” said White. “The French authorities must act calmly and avoid all forms of unfair discrimination.”

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