Angry locals set fire to Rom camp in Marseille
Angry people living near a Rom encampment in northern Marseille, forced the families living there to flee on Thursday night, before setting fire to what remained of their camp.
The police arrived at 7.30 in the evening, when the Roms had all left. There were no reports of injury and no arrests.
About 40 people had set up the camp and had been living there for four days.
“We have crossed another line. No one was hurt, but I fear worse in the future,” said the president of the local branch of the Human Rights League, Bernard Eynaud. He said it was a return to the incidents of mob violence against North African immigrants which Marseilles had known in the past.
The local people who expelled the Roms maintain they had no choice. Many of them are on low incomes or are unemployed, and they think the Roms are responsible for several recent burglaries.
“We warned them. First of all we weren’t especially opposed to them camping there. We just told them not to do anything stupid. In two days there were several burglaries. So, we got together and made them leave. It’s a social problem. And we did not need to call in the army,”
said one of those involved.
Sabrina explained that the decision to take action was an obvious one. “This morning we went to the police, to the Marseilles prefecture, to the district Mayor, and even to those who own our [rented] buildings. Everywhere, we got the same answer. That we had to wait longer, before the authorities could intervene. ‘Sort out the problem yourselves,’ we were led to understand. Fine, that’s what we did.”
The action highlights a simmering problem in France.
Interior Minister Manuel Valls ordered the dismantling of several illegal Rom encampments over the summer, and the inhabitants were given a sum of cash before being put on flights back to Romania and Bulgaria.
But many are expected to return, perhaps even encouraged by the cash which often accompanies any subsequent expulsions.
Similar moves while Nicolas Sarkozy was president attracted loud criticism from European Union officials, much of the French press, and many Socialist opposition politicians.
Now in power, many of those Socialist politicians are struggling themselves to find humane solutions to a difficult problem, and there is disagreement within cabinet ranks.
In August, some rules which restricted access to the labour market for Roms were relaxed in an attempt to counter balance Valls’ tough line over expulsions.
The Roms in France usually hail from Romania or Bulgaria. They often have a poor grasp of French and little education, and no visible means of earning a living.
People living or running businesses near illegal encampments regularly express their frustration that the police and local authorities have limited powers to intervene.