roma deportations.jpgA spokesman of the French minister of Immigration said France began the controversial expulsion of Roma on Thursday, putting 79 of them on a charter flight out of the country.



The government did not confirm the destination of the flight, but the head of a Roma support group, French media, and the Romanian Foreign Ministry said the plane was heading for Bucharest, Romania.


Some Roma already flew out of France in the morning on a commercial flight to Bucharest, according to a spokesman for ROMEUROPE, a support group for Roma in Europe.


The Romanian Foreign Ministry said there were 14 people on the earlier flight, for a total of 93 being expelled Thursday.


The deportation is part of what the French government says is a crackdown on illegal immigration, and it follows the government’s dismantling in the past three weeks of 51 Roma camps that it called illegal.


The government is offering 300 euros ($384) to each Roma adult and 100 euros ($128) to each Roma child who accepts the offer for a “voluntary return.”


Roma are a group of people marked by poverty who live mainly in southern and eastern Europe.


Often referred to as Gypsies, they tend to live in camps or caravans and have been persecuted throughout history.


Romanian Foreign Minister Teodor Baconschi told Radio France International that he is concerned about the French policy.


“I am worried about the risks of populism and xenophobic reactions in a context of economic crisis,” Baconschi said.


Roma from Romania and Bulgaria are allowed free passage into France if they are European Union citizens. After that, however, they must find work, start studies, or find some other way of becoming established in France or else risk deportation.