France accused of Roma racism
Strasbourg - Europe's top human rights watchdog accused France on Tuesday of stigmatising Roma people by blaming them for crime and expelling them from the country.
The panel, the European Commission against Racism and Intolerance, has repeatedly cautioned France about racism against Roma, also known as Gypsies, and urged the country to respect the rights of migrants from the minority.
In a report in June, the commission urged Paris "to combat the racist attitudes and hostility harboured by the majority population vis-a-vis this community".
In 2005, the panel asked France to ensure "Roma migrants' social rights to housing, health and education".
But matters have only worsened, the panel said in a statement.
This summer French President Nicolas Sarkozy announced a crackdown on Roma as part of a larger "war" on delinquency.
Return to homeland
The practice of giving each Gypsy a few hundred dollars and flying them to their Romanian homeland is widely seen as discriminatory.
In recent weeks, French police have dismantled dozens of illegally installed Gypsy camps and flown the dwellers to Romania.
Referring to that action, the European Commission against Racism and Intolerance said: "High-ranking officials have made political statements and the government has taken action stigmatising Roma migrants.
The latter are held collectively responsible for criminal offenses and singled out for abusing EU legislation on freedom of movement."
The rights panel said that while France may impose immigration controls, it questioned the draconian response by French officials to many Roma migrants.
"EU citizens have the right to be on French territory for certain periods of time and to return there. France should look for sustainable solutions in co-operation with partner states and institutions," said the panel.