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France’s Controversial Roma Deportations

French president Sarkozy has always been known for his unforgiving stance on immigration and security issues: the fact that these two vast sets of policy issues are connected in his mind underscores Sarkozy’s tendency to  merge the narratives around crime and immigration. In recent weeks, however, a controversial policy which targets the Roma – gypsies, as they are sometimes called, who hail primarily from Romania and Bulgaria, two relatively new EU member states – for deportation has been stirring the debate.

In July, a young Roma man was killed by a police officer in a central France town, which sparked a riot when dozens of Roma men atttacked a police station and other government property. Sarkozy reacted to the events by promising a crack-down, saying that the riots “highlighted the problems posed by the behaviour of certain travellers and Roma.” According to The Daily Mail, Sarkozy has described the makeshift camps where most Roma live as “sources of illegal trafficking, of profoundly shocking living standards, of exploitation of children for begging, of prostitution and crime.”

French intolerance towards immigrants, though, is nothing new. The country has been struggling to reconcile its deeply entrenched Roman Catholic, white identity with changing population trends. Over the last few decades, France has seen its immigrant population grow significantly, and right-wing politicians have typically exploited people’s fears regarding immigration for political gain. Prior to becoming president in 2007, Sarkozy gained a lot of support from French voters with his tough policies as interior minister. The recent crack-down on the Roma has been described as a “cynical populist ploy to boost his falling popularity ratings” by political opposition groups and critics in France. Polls, however, are showing that support for the expulsion of the Roma is estimated to be between 40 and 79 per cent. The current interior minister, Brice Hortefeux (who was recently fined by a court for racist comments) noted, “as usual, Sarkozyism is out of step with the elites, but in step with society.”

Aside from the support of a few other EU governments like Italy who also use deportations as a way to manage immigration, the international reaction has been almost universally critical. A UN-backed international committee of experts slammed the policy in late August, but the condemnation will likely do little to slow or halt the deportations. Even the Vatican condemned the policy, with an official noting that “the mass expulsions of Roma are against European norms.”

It should be noted that other EU countries have also been evicting unwanted residents – Germany, for instance, deported 12,000 Roma (including 6,000 children) to Kosovo this year, and that the French policy is part of a broader issue of confusing – and often unfair – rules and regulations regarding immigration and freedom of movement.

On September 9, the Parliament of the European Union voted a non-binding resolution which sharply criticizes the explicit targeting of the Roma for deportation.  The French government reacted by calling the resolution an unacceptable “political diktat” from the European Union.  The European Commission reminded France to respect the rules that govern free movement in the EU in August, drawing criticism for its tepid response. The head of the European Commission, Jose-Manuel Barroso, delivered an address last week during which he once again reminded EU member states of their obligations regarding the protection of the rights of the Roma, but without mentioning France explicitely. The Guardian reports that during a meeting with Sarkozy last week, Barroso agreed to avoid turning the expulsion of thousands of Roma or Gypsies from France into “a controversy”.

Because each Roma receives 300 euros per adult and 100 euros per child, the French government has called the deportations “voluntary.” The fact that any “foreign-born Roma who refuses to take a flight will be ordered to leave within a month without the cash,” however, casts serious doubts as to the voluntary nature of these repatriations. The freedom of movement rules for citizens of new member states – such as Romania and Bulgaria – are sometimes subject to restrictions. Even though France is one of ten EU countries which oppose these restrictions, they nevertheless have been deporting thousands of Roma. According to the AFP, about 10,000 Roma from Romania and Bulgaria returned to their countries using this “voluntary return” procedure last year.

What France calls “voluntary returns” is not a new policy, however. Every year, the French government sets specific targets for the number of undocumented immigrants to be deported, a figure that typically hovers around 30,000. People are sent home with a nominal sum of money (a few thousand dollars, for deportations outside the EU zone) and are usually escorted by French police until they land in their home country. These deportations cost French taxpayers tens of millions of euros every year. These targets allow the ministers in charge of this portofolio to boast about their success in immigration policy, which is viewed as a logistical issue rather than a human one. The continued emphasis on the link between crime and immigration has allowed Sarkozy to garner the support of voters, as noted above, and the Roma deportations are only the tip of the iceberg.

What sets this apart, though, is that the Roma are explicitely targeted in an aggressive manner. Commentators in France have said that the singling out and demonization of the Roma has sinister echoes of World War II, when the French government targeted and rounded-up tens of thousands of Jews and Gypsies to be sent to Nazi concentration camps. This very ugly memory, which should act as a reminder for French authorities that targeting ethnic groups is not just immoral but also illegal, has been dismissed by Sarkozy and his administration, who plan on pursuing the policy steadfastly.

Numbering about 12 million, the Roma are the European Union’s largest ethnic minority (there are an estimated 12/15,000 Roma in France.) They face harsh discrimination and lives as second-class citizens in their home countries – traditionally Romania and Bulgaria – and have historically lived nomadic, unsettled lives due to this history of prejudice. Over the years, the treatment of the Roma in their home countries has lead many of them to search for a better life in other Europan countries. For many in France, the image of poor, makeshift Roma camps on the outskirts of major cities is prevalent – the Roma have typically had little access to education and economic opportunities, and are known mostly for their relentless begging. Once in a while, the French media will hone in on the Roma’s begging practices, who often send out very young children with fake crutches, to generate sympathy, inevitably sparking public outcry and further isolation for that community.

In spite of the difficult lives they lead in France, recently deported Roma told European media that many of them planned to return to France as soon as possible, explaining that they felt a life of begging in France was better than life as second-class citizens with no opportunity at all at home.

When Romania and Bulgaria joined the EU, it was agreed that their citizens would face special restrictions in France, allowing their deportation after three months if they did not have a job or means of supporting themselves. A French foreign ministry spokesman noted that a European directive “expressly allows for restrictions on the right to move freely for reasons of public order, public security and public health”. As Romania and Bulgaria are slated to join the Schengen free movement area in 2011, however, it’s clear that the deportation policy will need to evolve.

For people familiar with French politics and in particular with Sarkozy’s particular brand of populism, the discrimination against the Roma is unsurprising. After all, this comes from the same president who recently proposed legislation that will strip French citizenship from “people of foreign origin” if they threaten the lives of police, commit polygamy or carry out female circumcision. In 2005, his comments about cleaning up poor, immigrant-heavy Parisian suburbs with a “Karcher” (a brand of high-pressure hose) sparked outrage and led to rioting. In the United States, political scientists often talk about the rally around the flag effect. In France, Sarkozy is manipulating a “rally around crime” sentiment to bolster his support and pander to far right-wing voters, as his popularity continues to slip due to his inability to resolve some of France’s real, long-term economic and social problems.


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Ted Turner: “The MDGs are the World’s To Do List” (Video)

UN Foundation Founder (and UN-designated “anti-poverty superhero“) Ted Turner cuts a PSA for the Millennium Development Goals.



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The Most Anticipated Event During UN Week

One of the most anticipated moments during the UN summit coming up later this month is a meeting on on maternal and child health, taking place on Wednesday the 22. It probably won’t draw the same amount of media attention as predicable rants by various global despots, but it holds more potential to change the lives of millions of the most vulnerable people around the world than any UN meeting in a long time.

The event will occur on the sidelines of the Millennium Development Goals summit and will focus on the two goals that, so far, have made the least progress toward their 2015 targets. These are Goal 4 (a two-thirds reduction in child mortality) and Goal 5 (a three quarters reduction in maternal mortality and universal access to family planning). Progress toward these goals have been particularly stunted in 49 of the least developed countries in the world, the majority of which are in sub-Saharan Africa. 

The idea behind this event is to build new momentum toward achieving these goals. Specifically, it is intended to secure tangible commitments toward implementing a Global Strategy for Women’s and Children’s Health which the Secretary General released two weeks ago.“We want developing countries to come to the table with policy commitments and donor countries will come to the table with financial commitments,” says UK Ambassador Mark Lyall Grant who met with a group of journalists to preview the event.

A communiqué that encapsulates policy and financial commitments will be released after the meeting. Expectations are already very high. A top UN official, Robert Orr ,told reporters, “There is going to be a huge amount of concrete agreements to fund that strategy.” Those funds will come mostly from donor countries, but also from philanthropies like the Gates Foundation and private corporations, including Johnson and Johnson, which announced a $200 million donation to the cause just yesterday.

In all, the Global Stragegy for Women’s and Children’s Health calls for an additional $26 billion of investments in women’s and children’s health spread across 49 countries to reach MDGs 4 and 5. That is obviously a great deal of money. But in human terms, the returns on this investment are potentially enormous. According to the UN report, more than 15 million deaths of children under five could be prevented; 33 million unwanted pregnancies could be avoided; and 740,000 women would be saved from dying from complications during child birth should these efforts be fully implemented.   Furthermore, it has been widely documented that investments in women and girls can have society-wide multiplier-effects that help to lift whole communities out of poverty.

No one predicts that $26 billion of additional funding will suddenly materialize during the UN meeting. But most UN watchers do expect that convening this meeting will result in a big dent in the funding gap for women’s and children’s health.  This, in the end, is the value of hosting this kind of summit—countries are much more focused on this issue than they would be absent the meeting, and there is “peer pressure” to bring tangible commitments to the table. Ultimately, though, the success of the MDG Summit ought to be measured by the quality of the commitments that are made. 

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Any Good News Today from South Sudan?

JUBA, Sudan—The sun was setting at the standard Equatorial time of just after 7pm, and I was bumping along a potholed road with my trusted motorcycle taxi.  Another day in Juba beginning to draw to a close. Then, my driver Issa said to me over his shoulder, “Do you have any good news from today?” This is not the first time in the 11 months that I have known Issa that he has said something to me that has struck me as powerful, insightful, or simply startling in its honesty. Since I changed jobs last month and became a journalist, Issa has begun asking me about my reporting almost every day. He’s curious about the status of the high-level political negotiations that will partly dictate the future of Sudan and relations between the country’s north and south. He’s worried about insecurity along the north-south border because he heard things were getting tense in the Abyei region; he knows the people of Abyei are worried they are not going to get their referendum. He wonders why the army has deployed more security resources to the bridge in Juba across the Nile. When he hears something on BBC or from his fellow boda driver friends, he often asks me if I’ve heard the same things. So it wasn’t very unusual for Issa to ask me about the news on that recent evening, but something about the way he said it made me realize that I had very little good news to report to him.

Post-referendum negotiations between the National Congress Party in Khartoum and the South’s ruling SPLM are moving forward quietly on some fronts, while the most contentious aspects of these discussions—related to post-referendum wealth-sharing and citizenship rights—aren’t likely to see progress any time soon, given that both sides will need to cede ground they aren’t willing to give up in order to reach agreements. Meanwhile, with the southern and Abyei referenda just over four months away, voter registration is not yet in sight given the delays in appoint the secretary-general of the southern referendum commission. 

The commission for the separate Abyei vote has not yet been formed due to political deadlock between the parties. I could go on, but these are just a few of the challenges plaguing the holding of a peaceful and credible referendum in January. I have no qualms in saying that it seems likely that one of the two parties to the Comprehensive Peace Agreement is responsible for mounting the bulk of the obstacles currently blocking progress toward holding the two referenda votes. This party has historical, existential, political, and strategic reasons for seeing these votes obstructed. Referring to the political dispute over the north-south border, the latest International Crisis Groups report notes that “strategic motives have…been behind NCP delays past and present” in demarcating this contested border. This is arguably the most contested outstanding element of the Comprehensive Peace Agreement aside from the southern referendum itself.  

I hope that the record will show that lack of political will, and good will in general, of one of these two parties has stymied implementation of the peace accord since it was signed in 2005. Moreover, this lack of will could hinder the ability of the Southern Sudanese to exercise their internationally-recognized right to determine their political destiny on January 9, 2011.

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Hillary Clinton: “We are constantly reminded of the UN’s Value”

Hillary Clinton delivered a sweeping speech on American global leadership earlier today at the Council on Foreign Relations.  There is a lot of love for the UN in there.  The following excerpt appeared under the sub-heading: “Global Institutions for the 21st Century.”

Effective institutions are just as crucial at a global level, where the challenges are even more complex and the partners even more diverse.

So our fifth step has been to reengage with global institutions and begin modernizing them to meet the evolving challenges of the 21st century. We need institutions that are flexible, inclusive, and complementary, instead of competing with one another for jurisdiction. Institutions that encourage nations to play productive roles, that marshal common efforts, and enforce the system of rights and responsibilities that binds us all.

The United Nations remains the single most important global institution and we are constantly reminded of its value: The Security Council enacting sanctions against Iran and North Korea. Peacekeepers patrolling the streets of Monrovia and Port-au-Prince. Aid workers assisting flood victims in Pakistan and displaced people in Darfur. And, most recently, the UN General Assembly establishing a new entity –UN Women–which will promote gender equality, expand opportunity for women and girls, and tackle the violence and discrimination they face.

But we are also constantly reminded of its limitations. It is difficult for the UN’s 192 Member States, with their diverse perspectives and interests, to achieve consensus on institutional reform, especially reforming the Security Council itself. The United States believes that the Council must be able to react to and reflect today’s world. We favor Security Council reform that enhances the UN’s overall performance, effectiveness and efficiency to meet the challenges of the new century. We equally and strongly support operational reforms that enable UN field missions to deploy more rapidly, with adequate numbers of well-equipped and well-trained troops and police they often lack, and with the quality of leadership and civilian expertise they require. And we will continue to embrace and advocate management reforms that lead to efficiencies and savings and that prevent waste, fraud and abuse.

Read the whole thing.  It is encouraging to see the Secretary of State talk about Security Council reform, which is something that is pretty much stalled at this point (much to the frustration of emerging powers.)  Perhaps this speech means some of the State Department is ready for a new push?  I know some at the top echelons of State have been on the case for some time.  Let’s see if this gains traction at all.  

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MDGs on Display at Times Square (VIDEO)

The biggest screen in Times Square is playing PSA’s on the Millennium Development goals between now and the UN Summit in two weeks.  Our friends at the UN Foundation pass along this announcement.

As world leaders convene in New York this September for a series of high-level summits, UNDP Assistant Secretary-General Sigrid Kaag, Grammy Award-winning singer-songwriter-television host-actress Kelly Rowland, and United Nations Foundation COO Rick Parnell, will unveil a high-impact public service announcement about the most critical issues facing the world, on WEDNESDAY, SEPTEMBER 8, 2010, at 3 PM at the RENAISSANCE NEW YORK TIMES SQUARE HOTEL, 714 7TH AVE BETWEEN 47th AND 48th STREETS, MANHATTAN.

Kaag, Rowland and Parnell will unveil a special 30-second Public Service Announcement inviting people to get involved to solve global problems. The PSA was produced by GOOD in partnership with the UN Foundation and Millennium Promise. It is the first of its kind to be featured prominently in Times Square, the crossroads of the world. Immediately after the unveiling, the PSA will start airing on the Toshiba Vision screen on One Times Square. It will continue airing, along with three other UN Foundation PSAs, throughout the month of September as world leaders meet at the UN General Assembly, UN MDG Summit, the Clinton Global Initiative and other high-level meetings.

Here is a sneak peak:


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