A group of Romani in France. Photo: Serge Melki for flickr

A group of Romani in France. Photo: Serge Melki for flickr

Christian Estrosi, the mayor of Nice and prominent member of the Union pour un mouvement populaire (UMP), presented on Sunday his instructions for “subduing” the gens du voyage, or travelers, as the Roma are often called.

His proposal consists of installing surveillance cameras in Roma camps, reviving registration plates, and even enforcing a judiciary procedure allowing the seizure of vehicles. This so-called “call to revolt” has been perceived as an act of hatred against a section of the French population.

Sarah Isal, chair of the European Network Against Racism (ENAR), said, “Comments fuelling hatred and stigmatization against any group on the basis of their ethnic or national origin have a particularly damaging impact when they come from public figures and politicians.”

On a national level, Estrosi’s plan is not the first call to hatred. The actions of several mayors who did not respect the law regarding transition areas earlier this year are also sending a negative message toward Roma groups. In one case, the mayor of Montevrain made use of social media networks to call for violence against the travelers present in his commune, which led to fighting, racist insults, and Nazi salutes.

On July 4 in Nice, former Front national (FN) leader Jean-Marie Le Pen was treading the traditional party line in making racist declarations against the presence of the Roma, blurring the line between foreign Roma and the travelers. His daughter and current head of the party Marine Le Pen has also recently demanded the expulsion of the Roma.

Benjamin Abtan and Alain Dumas, presidents of the antiracist movement and the Union française des associations tsiganes (UFAT), are appalled by this “call to revolt,” and have spoken out against the targeting.

Displacement of the Roma inevitably prevents access to education. As Richard Pfau of the réseau education sans frontières points out, this is a catastrophe for the young Roma who are removed from school. There were at least 50 children in the camps in Nice, and more than half are no longer attending school.

Improving the fate of the Roma has become imperative for Europe. It was brought into question in June during a “European platform for the integration of the Roma.” And as the recent outbursts in Nice demonstrate, the situation is becoming increasingly desperate: in being victims of discrimination and restricted access to education, Roma populations continue to live in poverty from one generation to the next.

Jàn Hero, the former director of a high school in Slovakia, is currently working for the Slovakian government on the integration of the Roma populations in that country. While he believes that it is important to take action with respect to education, in order to overcome these difficulties he advocates for the need to tackle housing, employment, and health issues concurrently, because these sectors are equally as crucial to the wellbeing of Roma communities.