Roma deportations not like Holocaust roundups
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A Roma woman hides her face as she arrives in Bucharest from Paris
French community leaders have spoken out against the targeting of the Roma people for deportation, but rejected comparisons with the roundup of the Jews in the 1930s.
"We can't accept discrimination like the one the Roma community is facing. It's a European problem and it must be addressed on that level," said Richard Prasquier, head of the French Jewish umbrella group CRIF.
"But I was shocked by certain comparisons. The situation today is nothing like the one under the Vichy regime."
He said that most of the Roma who have been sent back to their home countries "accepted" the deportation.
"EU laws protect them in these countries," he added. "They're not sent to gas chambers. I haven't seen any hate demonstrations.
"Those who say our nation has been stained, as did former PM Dominique de Villepin, used an intolerable speech of propaganda. History should be respected."
Since January, France has deported half of the foreign Roma people living on its territory back to Romania and Bulgaria. Authorities sped up the pace of deportations this summer, after the shooting of a Roma man triggered scuffles between police and the Roma community.
President Nicolas Sarkozy has said he has no intention of stopping the process although critics at home and abroad - including the Vatican, UN Human Rights panel, the OSCE and various European bodies - have labelled the policy racist.
A number MEPs and a priest have compared the roundups in Roma camps to the round ups of Jews during the Second World War.
"The government's goal is obvious: It's using the Roma people to demonstrate its so-called efficiency against crime," said Malik Salemkour, head of Romeurope and vice president of the Human Rights League.
"But they're just scapegoats, an easy target. There are barely 15,000 Roma people in France and no one cares to defend them.
"They're being discriminated against, like the Jews were in the 1930s."
France's chief Rabbi Gilles Bernheim said Roma were being stigmatised and called for an interreligious meeting on the issue. However, he too rejected the comparisons with the Second World War.
"I regret and condemn these exaggerations. One should ask the Gypsies what has happened in the death camps and what has happened this month of August."
Meanwhile, Interior minister Brice Hortefeux, recently convicted for racist comments about Arabs, said the deportations were solely due to high crime rates among Roma people.
He said one out of five crimes is committed by a Romanian national. Human rights groups said the study was not only biased but also illegal.
Some observers have accused President Sarkozy of bolstering the government's action against illegal immigration for political purposes.
His approval rates have dropped to a historic low and wooing far-right voters could boost his popularity before the next presidential election in 2012.