French minister defends Roma policy at immigration meeting
French Immigration Minister Eric Besson again defended his country's much-criticized repatriation of Roma, denying Monday that the ethnic group had suffered mass expulsions.
"There have been no mass expulsions of Roma," Besson said at a seminar on illegal immigration held in Paris with representatives from six European Union countries and Canada.
He admitted that there had been what he called an "acceleration" in the deportation of "Romanians and Bulgarians" recently, but said all the departures had been voluntary.
"We have scrupulously respected our republican principles," Besson told journalists.
The issue of the Roma, or Gypsies, was not on the agenda of the seminar. The meeting brought together government representatives from France, Germany, Italy, Greece, Canada, Britain and Belgium, which currently holds the rotating EU presidency.
Melchior Wathelet, Belgium's junior minister for migration and asylum, said the aim of the seminar had been to find ways to harmonize asylum and immigration rules in Europe.
"We are looking to establish the most European approach possible to asylum and immigration," he told journalists.
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