France will expand the number of sectors where Roma, Europe’s most marginalised ethnic group, can seek employment, the prime minister’s office has said.
The move, announced on Wednesday, came amid criticism of police raids that have dismantled ramshackle camps and left hundreds of Roma from Romania and Bulgaria without shelter.
The decision was made after Jean-Marc Ayrault’s office held a meeting to rethink France’s policy towards the ethnic group, following consultations with Roma representatives.
As part of measures to remove hurdles for Roma job seekers, the government also scrapped a tax that employers must pay to hire people from the two countries instead of employing French workers.
Raids that sparked anger across Europe were mounted this month in Paris and other French cities, echoing a crackdown on Roma two years ago under the government of Nicolas Sarkozy, France’s former conservative president.
Activists say at least a dozen camps were dismantled, displacing hundreds of Roma though official figures are not available.
Some fled into nearby woods when they heard the police were coming, or went out looking for a new abandoned area to set up camp. Others took the government’s offer of $373 to go home to Romania in a “voluntary return”.
Ayrault called the new measures a “question of humanity and respect”, adding that the government would continue to fight exploitation of children by Roma populations.
He said any court orders to clear out camps would be honoured and that a new system would be put in place to offer other housing options to families.
Cut off from mainstream society, Roma in France live on the edges of cities, in cars or in makeshift structures in abandoned industrial zones without running water.
They speak little French, and some beg at tourist sites such as the Eiffel Tower.
Ionut Tranca, a 22-year-old from the Craiova region of Romania who now lives in a camp in the shadow of Paris’ Orly Airport, expressed frustration on Wednesday at limitations on Romanians and Bulgarians in France.
“We are Europeans,” he said.
“If we find work, we can find an apartment and pay rent. If we don’t, how can we pay rent?
“The police come here often, they don’t like us.”