PARIS – France was getting ready Wednesday to start the expulsion of Gypsy migrants despite hefty criticism at home and abroad of the action.
Media reports said the first group of 79 was to be flown to Romania on Thursday, with government officials saying the Gypsies, or Roma, were leaving “on a voluntary basis” after each adult was paid 300 euros ($390) and 100 euros ($130) additionally paid for each child.
Interior Minister Brice Hortefeux has announced plans to fly out some 700 Gypsies “to their homeland” in Romania and Bulgaria.
But Romanian Foreign Minister Teodor Baconschi has warned against expelling the Gypsies “collectively … based on ethnic criteria.”
This was a violation of European Union laws governing freedom of movement and also contradicted the strategic partnership between France and Romania, he warned.
Romania’s ministry of labor, which negotiated the repatriation with French authorities, said it expected a total of 371 Gypsies to return in the coming days, the bulk of them on August 26.
Bulgarian commentators were also incensed by France’s actions.
“The expulsion, to put it mildly, appears non-European,” sociologist Kolyo Kolev told the Focus news agency.
The measure also meant that “certain people are being accused of a collective guilt,” Kolev said.
Another critic of the French action, Sega newspaper European affairs reporter Svetoslav Terziev, charged that Paris aimed to turn Bulgaria and Romania into “Roma ghettos.”
In Brussels, a European Commission spokesman said expulsions are possible under European Union law only on a case-by-case basis and provided they can be defined as a “proportionate” measure.
However, the EU’s executive appeared unlikely to take French officials to task on the matter, as the spokesman said “it is really for France to see how it applies these rules.”
The French expulsion action comes after French authorities cleared several illegal Gypsy encampments around the country.
Most of the Gypsies in France originate from Romania and Bulgaria. As EU citizens they are permitted free entry, but may be expelled if they commit a punishable crime or are deemed a burden on society.
Historically, Romania and Bulgaria were an asylum of the Gypsies during World War II because those countries did not deport them and Jews to authorities of the Nazi Germany for extermination.
In July, Bulgarian Interior Minister Zvetan Zvetanov had said Sofia would take in those Gypsies expelled by France.
Of Bulgaria’s population of 7.6 million, at least 600,000 are Gypsies, including some 30,000 who live in the capital Sofia.