Rights groups have accused France of inciting racial hatred after media published a government memorandum ordering police to prioritise the dismantling of Roma camps over other illegal settlements.
President Nicolas Sarkozy’s government, criticised by the European parliament for breaking discrimination rules, insists the crackdown launched in July focuses on removing illegal camps and does not specifically target the Roma as a racial group.
The August 5 memo, published on newspaper websites and signed by Interior Minister Brice Hortefeux’s chief of staff, ordered police chiefs and regional prefects to begin « a systematic operation to dismantle illegal camps, prioritising those of the Roma ».
« Three hundred camps or illegal settlements must be dismantled within three months, prioritising those of the Roma, » it said.
There was no official comment on the published memo.
Human rights associations on Sunday said the document proved the government was singling out the Roma and called for its immediate suspension.
« We’re considering, together with other groups, a criminal lawsuit for incitement to racial hatred, » Stephane Maugendre, president of the immigrant help association Gisti, told Reuters.
Jean-Pierre Dubois, head of France’s Human Rights League, said his organisation was also studying legal action against the government based on the memorandum.
The opposition Socialist party, which has branded the repatriations « shameful », said European authorities should take action against Sarkozy’s government.
« I call on the European Commission … to open a procedure against the French government to prevent this inhumane treatment and unacceptable stigmatisation of European citizens, » wrote Socialist European parliamentarian Harlem Desir.
The Commission has already asked France to give evidence that its campaign meets EU rules.
The conservative government has repatriated over 1000 Roma in recent weeks, straining relations with Bucharest. France says the repatriations are mostly voluntary and include a resettlement payment of 300 euros per adult and 100 per child.
On Thursday, the European parliament passed a resolution accusing France of breaching European Union rules on discrimination and free movement of people.
Responding to the criticism, Immigration Minister Eric Besson said that the measures respected European law and there was no collective expulsions of Roma from France.