On the eve of his visit to Romania on September 12 French Interior Minister Manuel Valls, referring to the Roma that fill the coaches on the roads between Romania and France, declared that France could no longer accommodate all these “wretched of the earth” and the “populations harassed in their own country”. What is missing in this summary is the opinion of those affected. No one, including the officials, ever asked them what they think and how they view their repatriation. Undoubtedly the Roma will go back to Romania and then head off once again, so long as they are given the chance.
During the visit by Minister Valls Roma staged a protest outside the government building in Bucharest to express their dissatisfaction at being a ping-pong ball in a game between the Romanian authorities and the rest of the European Union. By the time someone resolves to clear up their problems, they will always choose to emigrate.
Hundreds of Roma “euro-deportees” from France made this return home to “recharge their batteries” – and top up their benefits, thanks to the 300 euros that each of them gets to leave France “voluntarily and by their own consent.” After a few weeks at home in Romania, most head back to the country they just departed, which they never really left.
Gheorghe Victor, mayor of the municipality of Cojasca in the Department of Dâmboviţa, watches over a community of more than 7,000, of whom 90 percent are Roma, mostly concentrated in the village of Fântânele. A good many of the villagers have gone almost everywhere in Europe. “I don’t think we can honestly speak of emigrants,” the mayor says. “In my opinion, it’s more a question of EU citizens leaving for a month or two for countries like France, Italy or England, where they can earn a better living.
These are citizens who traditionally practice the profession of itinerant musician.” Sure of the honour of his co-villagers, the mayor swears up and down that none of them have committed any crime there. “Ninety-nine percent of them are Pentecostals. They don’t drink, they don’t smoke, and they’re not muggers. Their faith doesn’t allow them that.”
For example, the Dan family, nicknamed “The French,” is multiplying thanks to “Sarkozy money”, an allusion to the humanitarian assistance for a return home that France under President Nicolas Sarkozy provided on a large scale for the first expulsions in August 2010. The family is a typical example of the Roma that do the Paris-Fântânele shuttle. The Dan house is hard to miss, because they have more children than all the other inhabitants of the alley put together. They hang out in front, around the makeshift fence put together from a haphazard collection of planks and boards.
“Up there in France”
Once they all emerge, parents and children, they add up to some 13 people. We quickly work out that they have followed the principle of “another year, another child.” The father found himself tagged with his nickname “French” or “Bonjour” because lately he could usually be found on the banks of the Seine in Paris, selling Magic Tree deodorants at the red lights. Has he had run-ins with the police? “Sure, who hasn’t? But it depends on who is around and the mood of the flics (cops). Some pretended not to see us, and others confiscated our merchandise and money – but we were never given a receipt.”
“Bonjour” said that he was used to the commuting, though the return leg back to Romania “was often on the suggestion” of the French authorities. He thanked the Lord for his good health and the chance to be “up there in France”, because without France they would all have been living in misery. His wife, cradling in her arms her youngest child – for now – complains that “We need at least 20 loaves per day” (bread by the kilo is often the traditional unit of measurement of economic health among the Roma]. “The boys came home,” she said, “saw that they couldn’t make any money here, and went away again.”
The father returned this time because his children were ill and he had to help nurse them back to health. In Paris these last weeks he slept in his car, pulled to the kerb in the sixteenth district. “It was sort of a base in Paris…”. Now he expects his children, who stayed behind in France, to send him money to pay for the bus fare back. This will be possible, of course, if the Lord wills it. And until now, God has heard his prayers every time.
Where EU subsidies go
During a recent visit to Bucharest where they discussed the living conditions and the return of thousands of Roma living in France, French Interior and European Affairs Ministers, Manuel Valls and Bernard Cazeneuve, “met with a frosty reception,” writes Le Monde. Romanian authorities deny the accusations, made by Paris, of targeting the Roma. According French daily —
The aim of the visit by Messrs Valls and Cazeneuve was to find solutions to ‘fix’ these peoples in their country, notably through development programmes. And to understand the reasons for the failure of the many integration plans conceived and financed by the European Union.
According to their contacts within the Roma community the failure is due to the inefficiency, not to say corruption, of the Romanian authorities. Mihai Ion, head of the Roma community of Targu Jiu, told Le Monde that —
‘… if the European funds destined for social issues transit through the government in Bucharest, we will never see them. The solution is simple: take the Romanian State out of the equation and let us manage the funds ourselves.’ European aid, from the European Social Fund (ESF) alone, set aside for Romania from 2007 to 2013, amounts to 3.7 billion euros. In seven years, Romania has only spent 7% of this budget. With a single MP in parliament, which they themselves accuse of doing nothing, the Roma have little leverage to make themselves heard.
“Preoccupied by the legislative elections scheduled for December 9, the Socialist government, for its part, has other things on its mind than the Roma,” the paper concludes.