THE BLOG
25/09/2013 12:53 BST | Updated 24/11/2013 10:12 GMT

The French Disgrace as Forced Evictions Soar

I honestly cannot believe what is happening across the channel in France.

In case you had forgotten a little over a year ago, the French public swept aside Nicolas Sarkozy's government and elected Francoise Hollande. For the world of human rights, it offered a breath of fresh air.

Here was a man who promised to address prejudice wherever he found it. On a personal level I have been campaigning for Roma rights for years and I particularly welcomed Hollande's comments.

Here was an incoming president promising a new era for the Roma community. He even set up an inter-ministerial commission to ensure the various government departments worked together to stop Roma communities being shoved from pillar to post on a wave of repeated forced evictions.

And a year on, what's happened? It's got worse. A lot worse.

Amnesty's new report Told to move on: Forced evictions of Roma in France launched on Wednesday in Paris reveals that forced evictions of Roma in France have reached record proportions.

There are some 20,000 Roma migrants living in France mostly from Romania, Bulgaria and former Yugoslavia. Almost all of them are fleeing the chronic poverty and discrimination they face in their home countries. They need support. Yet more than 10,000 Roma were evicted from informal settlements during the first half of 2013. At the beginning of the summer, an Amnesty delegation visited the largest informal Roma camp in Lille. There were about 800 people living there. On 11 September 2013 they were all evicted.

The Roma community have been condemned to a life of constant insecurity, wandering from one makeshift camp to another.

Take the example of Adela, a 26-year-old, mother of four. She has lived through 15 forced evictions in the ten years she has lived in France. She said: "If there is no alternative housing, if they cannot do anything to help us, then why don't they let us stay here? We have nowhere to go, we cannot sleep on the street like homeless people."

Hollande's commission on paper looked like a good step, but at best it has been ineffectual. The guidelines are discretionary and inconsistently applied. Hollande needs to give the inter-ministerial commission some teeth as a matter of urgency.

The first step is simple: forced evictions should be banned. All too frequently Roma families are being kicked out of their homes with little warning and scant, if any, consultation. As today's Amnesty report concludes, it cannot be allowed to continue.