A vigilante attack against a Roma teenager has shocked France and put pressure on the French government to improve conditions for the ethnic minority. Human rights advocates say the rise of a xenophobic climate in the country may have contributed to the attack.
French news reports say 16-year-old Darius, whose last name has not been released, was found bloodied and unconscious in a grocery cart by the side of the road in a suburb north of Paris. He was kidnapped and beaten by a dozen or so youths who accused him of stealing. President Francois Hollande condemned what he called an unspeakable and unjustifiable act.
Aline Le Bail-Kremer, a spokesperson for human rights group SOS Racism, says the incident is not so surprising considering the atmosphere in France today.
“The fact is the National Front, which is a xenophobic party, won an election in this country and won a lot of gains all over Europe,” she says. “And [the attack] is the result of this context.”
The elections she’s referring to are recent European parliamentary elections, where the far right came out on top in France. Even before those elections, French governments on both the right and left have been criticized for their harsh dealings and deportation of Roma.
The Roma, sometimes referred to as gypsies, migrated to Europe from India during the Middle Ages.
They have always faced harsh discrimination across the continent. They began coming in large numbers to Western Europe when Romania and Bulgaria joined the EU in 2007.
Roma are part of the landscape in Paris today. Under the Eiffel Tower, there are always gangs of young Roma girls hitting the tourists up for money.
J.Z. — who won’t give her full name because she is frightened of the police — is one of those girls. She and her friends surround me. They carry clipboards with petition-like papers on them, or little cards with notes, like “I am hungry, I want money,” scribbled on them.
I begin to ask the girls what their lives are like. Soon, our conversation attracts a couple of police officers. They walk up, stop our interview, take the girls’ cards and tear them up.
The girls say this treatment is common.
J.Z. says she doesn’t steal. But Roma are often accused of stealing from tourists and Parisians across the city, especially in the subway.
Laurent Thebault runs a souvenir stand near the Eiffel Tower. He says the Roma situation is impossible.
“As a shopkeeper, I’m confronted by these girls all summer long. They’re often pregnant; they ask for water and steal from me,” he says. “But as a human being, I see these people are not able to integrate, and this is the only way they can survive.”
Thebault says people are increasingly nervous because European governments seem to have no coherent plan for the Roma in Europe.