The Roma have long been a pariah people. Poorly understood, highly suspect, and the subject of pervasive myths, the Roma of Europe have been persecuted and marginalised for centuries. The latest move on the part of the French authorities to forcibly displace and return over 700 Roma and destroy over 50 camps, is another example of the intolerance of European society, and the unwillingness of national authorities to look at social issues in an evidence-based way. Over the next few weeks and months, other countries in Europe may be tempted to follow the model that France has initiated. If they do, it will constitute one of the largest forced displacements Europe has seen since the Balkan War.
From a public health perspective, what is being done to the Roma in France is likely to have far-reaching repercussions. Many Roma are poor, and have become used to living in conditions of extreme deprivation. Because of this, many of them will have developed the diseases that come with chronic poverty, poor nutrition, overcrowding, and poor healthcare. Forcing the Roma to move again and returning them to locations and situations that they fled from before, will only worsen their health condition. Diseases of poverty are never resolved through forced displacement; on the contrary, they are often aggravated by it. Like refugees everywhere, many Roma will now be pushed into situations of even greater poverty, worse living conditions, and even less access to health care. They will be exposed to more disease-prone situations, and they will become all the more vulnerable to a host of old and new physical, psychological, and social problems. Unless action is taken to ensure the welfare of this population, and unless steps are taken to integrate rather than exclude the Roma, we may be on the threshold of yet another European man-made disaster.
- Hundreds of Roma Expelled from France: Humane Deportation or Xenophobic Slum Clearing? (humanrights.change.org)
- Roma in Europe: Persecuted and misunderstood (cnn.com)
- France pushes forward Roma deportations: ‘They are trying to get rid of us all‘ (The Guardian)
- Why do the Roma wander? (slate.com)
- A Tenuous Existence- photo essay (NY Times)
- Expulsion of Roma Raises Questions in France (NY Times)