MEPs urge halt to Roma expulsions

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European lawmakers pressed France yesterday to stop sending large groups of Roma migrants out of the country and criticised the EU executive for a "late and limited" response to the French campaign.

France has returned more than 8,000 Roma to Romania and Bulgaria this year, some as part of a crime clampdown by President Nicolas Sarkozy which has drawn criticism from human rights groups, the Catholic Church and politicians.

Stepping up the pressure on France, members of the European Parliament passed a resolution accusing Paris of breaching European Union laws on discrimination and the free movement of people. The resolution expressed "deep concern" about measures taken by France and other EU member states against Roma, urging them to "immediately suspend" all expulsions and calling on the European Commission to intervene.

MEPs have criticised the Commission for not checking up on France quickly enough and for failing to co-ordinate a response to discrimination against the more than 10 million Roma living in the EU.

In the resolution, lawmakers took the unusual step of expressing "deep regret" about what they described as a "late and limited" reaction by the European Commission and urged it to develop a plan to combat discrimination. France argues that the Roma it is sending back are living in illegal camps which breed crime.