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France: New Pro-Roma Employment Policy Strikes a Nerve

[All links forward to French articles unless otherwise stated] 

The recurring tensions surrounding “nomadic” Eastern European migrants have yet again made the news this summer in France. On August 22, 2012, a new policy was enacted by the French government led by Prime Minister Ayrault [en] that would ease access to the job market [en] for the Roma community.

Before this announcement, the dismantling of Roma camps during the summer of 2012, a task strongly undertaken by the new Minister of the Interior Manuel Valls, came with indifference, if not approval from the majority of the French population. This has sparked defenders of the Roma to show their disillusionment.

The Roma community is composed of about 500,000 people in France.  Their perception in the french public opinion has often been a source of tension and prejudice. Since 2010, the community has been subjected to frequent measures of mass expulsions [en].

The organisation Voix des Rroms [fr] nearly felt sorry for the ex-Minister of the Interior, Brice Hortefeux [en], and on Mille Babords,  it quipped:

Courage, gouvernement Ayrault ! Vous pouvez vous en sortir ! Nous, on s’en sort depuis 700 ans envers et contre tout. C’est juste une question de valeurs à respecter, et ce n’est pas très compliqué.

Good luck to the Ayrault government! You can make it! We have managed to get by for the last 700 years against all odds. It is just a matter of respecting values – it is really not that difficult.

At a meeting on the 22 August, the French government announced some “alternative solutions” to improve the precarious situation of some 15,000 Roma living in France, many of them living in shanty towns on the outskirts of large urban areas.

These measures include an easing of the constraints previously held for Romanian and Bulgarian nationals in their access to the labour market, of which many are of Roma origin. Even though Romanian and Bulgarian nationals are citizens of the European Union and as such benefit from the freedom of movement, they are subject to French transient laws which in any case will cease to be in effect from 31 December 2013.

A confusion of terms

New constructions (wooden structures) in the Roma camp in Orly. Photo by Julien Paisley for CG94 photos, on Flickr - CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

New constructions (wooden structures) in the Roma camp in Orly. Photo by Julien Paisley for CG94 photos, on Flickr – CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

Roma, Romanians, French travellers, sedentary people… Confusion reigns in France between “travellers” who are French but have an administrative status of their own, and the new poverty-stricken migrants coming from Eastern Europe paving the way to racist stereotyping in the court of public opinion.

The blog Dépêches Tziganes recapped what the words mean [fr], and made the following observation:

Une nouvelle fois tout se mélange ! Rroms et gens du voyage se trouvent associés aux idées de campements, de misère et d’expulsion du territoire. (…) Qu’importe que la très grande majorité des Rroms vivant en France sont citoyens français depuis de nombreux siècles, ils restent assimilés à des étrangers.

Once again everything gets confused! Roma and travelers are associated with images of settlements, destitution and being evicted from their homes. (…) No matter that the great majority of Roma people living in France are French citizens and historically have been for many centuries, they are still seen as being foreigners.

#YouAlsoWillFindAJobForTheRoma

The public outcry on Twitter and blogs since the announcement of the easier access to work has not been privy to these distinctions in meanings. On Wednesday the hashtag #ToiAussiTrouvesUnMétierPourLesRoms [fr] (#YouAlsoWillFindAJobForTheRoma) became a trending topic in France, among a wide variety of spellings and often including tasteless puns and racist stereotypes.

Some tweets were clearly offensive, others had poetic puns even if the joke was still tasteless:

@Soldat2Fortune#ToiAussiTrouvesUnMétierPourLesRoms astronautes pour aller voler les étoiles du ciel et les mettre dans tes yeux. Je suis un#ROMantique.

@Soldat2Fortune: #ToiAussiTrouvesUnMétierPourLesRoms[fr] astronauts, to steal the stars from the sky and put them in your eyes. I am a #ROMantique [fr] (ROMAntic)

Emblematic of the common reactions found online, a post found on the forum Les Moutons enragés [fr] entitled “Roma,  here we go, now they are offering them work in France” received 100 comments in 24 hours:

Dl:moi je dit une chose net et clair, QU’ILS RETOURNENT CHEZ EUX;
tous cela finiras mal.

Dudul: avant de s’occuper de la misère du monde, commençons par s’occuper de nos concitoyens dans le besoins, et en danger….

Dl: I will say one thing loud and clear, THEY MUST GO BACK TO WHERE THEY CAME FROM; this is all going to end badly.

Dudul: before we worry about the world's problems, let us start by worrying ourselves about our own citizens in need and in danger

"Ironmongers leave" Roma ironmongers, Sofia, Bulgaria. Photo by Philippe Garov on Flickr CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

“Ironmongers leave” Roma ironmongers, Sofia, Bulgaria. Photo by Philippe Garov on Flickr CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

As for blogs, it is hard to find entries that are  measured in their reactions when the topic of employment for the Roma community is brought up.

On Tempus fugit… Berdepas’ comment stifles, but in a polite way:

Les 4.395.000 “demandeurs d’emploi” français seront heureux d’apprendre que le problème de l’emploi des Roms a trouvé une solution !!! Leur accès à l’emploi sera “facilité”, ce qui veut dire que ces gens qui, pour la plupart n’ont aucune qualification, aucune volonté sincère d’intégration dans notre société, bénéficieront d’un traitement particulier qui feront d’eux des “Roms d’exception” dans toute la Communauté européenne !!!

The 4,395,000 French “job seekers” will be happy to learn that the Roma job problem has been solved!!! Their access to work will be “helped”, which means that these people, who in their majority do not hold any qualifications or show any willingness to integrate themselves into our society, will benefit from a kind of special treatment which will make them the “Roma exception” in all of the European Community!!!

Senior civil servant and former advisor to Nicolas Sarkozy Maxime Tandonnet explains:

L’enrobage diffère un peu il est vrai : on ouvre (comme il est prévu par les traités européens) le marché de l’emploi aux Roumains et aux Bulgares. Tout le monde est content et fait semblant de croire que cette mesure est destinée aux roms…  En réalité l’ouverture porte sur les Roumains et les Bulgares formés et qualifiés pour un métier, ce qui ne correspond pas forcément à la situation des populations en détresse vivant dans des squats et bidonvilles … (…)

The front cover of this policy indeed appears slightly different: we are opening the labour market to Romanians and Bulgarians (like it had been planned by the European treaties). Everyone is happy and seems to believe that this measure will have a positive effect on the Roma community… In reality, the door is open for trained and qualified Romanians and Bulgarians, which does not necessarily correspond to those populations in need; the ones living in illegally occupied properties and shanty towns…

Will procedural changes improve the economic situation of  the Roma?

The process for Romanian and Bulgarian nationals to gain work currently assimilates them as being from outside of Europe. Obtaining a work permit is similar to an obstacle course, with the following stages to complete: one must apply for a profession in high demand [fr] from the official list, obtain a promise of a work contract from their employer and the payment of tax based on the amount of their wages, and, finally, obtain the acceptance of the application from the authorities.

Will the relaxing or ceasing of these “transitory measures” have an effect on the economic situation of these migrants? Charities say they are disappointed, as seen in this video [fr] from AFP available on Daily Motion.

carte de séjour

Residence card, the key. Photo source: Public domain

The blog Bienvenue chez les Rroms [fr] has given its seal of  approval  in advance to this measure. It explains [fr] why:

L'argument avancé par Manuel Valls selon lequel les solutions sont à trouver en Roumanie ou en Bulgarie est irrecevable et hypocrite car nous savons que ces deux pays n'ont ni les moyens, ni l'envie de traiter les Rroms comme des citoyens à part entière. La France n'a d'ailleurs pas de leçons à donner vu la manière dont elle traite ses propres “gens du voyage”, pourtant citoyens français.

The argument brought forward by Manuel Valls [the minister of interiror]  in which he states that solutions must be found in Romania and Bulgaria is wrong and hypocritical. This is because everyone knows that these two countries have neither the means nor the desire to treat the Roma as full citizens. France is not blameless either in the the way in which it treats its own “travellers”, even though they are French citizens.

La divine comédie without hesitation supports the Roma cause but sees another obstacle [fr]:

On nous annonce que le gouvernement Z'Ayrault va ouvrir les métiers en tension aux Roms. Je me marre …. Ce serait en effet bien que les Roms aient accès à certains métiers en tension, hôtellerie, restauration, BTP, métiers de service, aide à la personne. Mais vous le voyez quand vous passez devant un chantier ou quand l'aide ménagère vient visiter la mémé voisine, tous ces emplois sont cooptés par des Africains, majoritairement.(…)
Donc, pour que ça change vraiment maintenant, il faut plus qu'une volonté politique d'intégration. Il faut une volonté soutenue de la part des entrepreneurs et des recruteurs. Et cela sera beaucoup plus difficile à obtenir, parce qu'une fois que les habitudes sont prises il est difficile de faire dévier l'âne de sa trajectoire.

They tell us that the Ayrault government wants to open professions in need of workers to the Roma. That's comical, …it would be good if the Roma had access to jobs in need of workers, like jobs in the hotel business, restaurants, building and civil engineering, the service industry, caring services. But as you can see when you pass a construction site or when the housekeeper comes to visit your elderly neighbour, the majority of these jobs are taken by Africans (a community that is also struggling to find jobs) (..) Therefore, for this to really change now, we need a real integration policy. We need businesses and recruiters to really try harder. This will become harder and harder, as actions begin to settle and turn into habit – you cannot teach an old dog new tricks.

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