Sarkozy expels 79 Roma gypsies

France expelled nearly 100 Roma gypsies to their native Romania yesterday as part of a public effort by President Nicolas Sarkozy to dismantle Roma camps and sweep them out of the country, the Immigration Ministry said.

A chartered flight to Bucharest, which left from Lyon with 79 Roma aboard, Immigration Ministry officials said. However, Romanian border police official Cristian Ene, at Bucharest's Aurel Vlaicu airport, said only 61 people were aboard. Fourteen other people were repatriated to Romania aboard a commercial flight from the Paris region earlier in the day, the French officials said, adding that another Romania-bound repatriation flight was expected Friday. Additional flights were scheduled for later this month and September, Romania's Foreign Ministry said.

Those repatriated yesterda left "on a voluntary basis" and were given small sums of money – €300 (£246) for each adult and €100 for children – to help them get back on their feet in their home country.

Roma advocates countered that the repatriations were hardly voluntary, claiming that those who refused the deal would end up in holding centres before being sent home without funds. Alexandre Le Cleve, a spokesman for Rom Europe, said the expulsions were pointless because nothing prevented the Roma from immediately returning to France.

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