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France, Romania sign treaty on repatriating Romani people who overstay

Bucharest, 13.9.2012 19:31, (ROMEA)

Bucharest and Paris have undertaken to cooperate more closely on the repatriation of Romani citizens from Romania living illegally in France. The two states have confirmed this by signing a framework agreement to contribute toward the integration of 80 Romani families recently deported back to Romania from France.

The document was signed yesterday by French Interior Minister Manuel Valls and French EU Affairs Minister Bernard Cazeneuve during talks with Romanian officials in Bucharest. "We want to make sure our joint efforts are concentrated on a solution in which Romani people settle in their home country, Romania," Valls said after his negotiations with Romanian Prime Minister Victor Ponta.

The Romanian leader assured the French representatives that his country will take responsibility for the integration of the Romani community, but added that his government needs support from the European Union and from France. "The future of these Romani communities must lie in Europe, but should lie mainly in Romania," he added.

Bucharest and Paris also expressed appreciation to one another for the cooperation between police forces in both countries in their fight against a network of "white slavery" traders. Romanian President Traian Basescu and Romanian PM Ponta promised to continue to send Romanian police officers abroad to assist their French colleagues in the field with such cases.

The visit by the French ministers to Bucharest is taking place at a time when Paris faces criticism from the UN and NGOs working to protect Romani people over the French Government's policy of forcibly liquidating illegal campsites occupied by Romani people. The policy was initiated by the former right-wing president, Nicolas Sarkozy, and the new socialist government is continuing it.

"The program of 'voluntary' repatriations is discriminatory," the NGOs have declared. They are accusing the current French authorities of hypocrisy.

An estimated 15 000 - 20 000 Romani people from abroad are living in France, most of them in impoverished camps on the outskirts of large towns or cities. French authorities claim the Romani campers do not have the necessary residence permits. Valls also initiated police interventions because the camps are said to pose a public health risk.

Many previously deported Romani people returned to France after receiving EUR 300 each from French authorities to support their return to their home country. In Romania, 620 000 persons have identified themselves as Romani during the official census, but unofficial estimates say the number of Romani people there is as high as 2 million.

"The Romanian Government must accept its responsibility for improving the situation of Romani people in Romania, that can't be done from Paris," declared Marian Daragiu, chair of the Civic Democratic Association of Romani People in Romania. He went on to condemn a "lack of political will" to assist the Romani community in rising out of poverty, claiming that Romanian government aid has been restricted to social welfare benefits only.

ČTK, Gwendolyn Albert, Czech Press Agency, translated by Gwendolyn Albert
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