Unwanted in France, Unloved in Romania A Desperate Homecoming for Deported Roma

France is deporting hundreds of Roma to Romania and other Eastern European countries. But the controversial policy isn't working. Unable to find work in their home countries, many plan to return to France as quickly as possible.

By in Barbulesti, Romania


Merisor de la Barbulesti is home again, and he's in a foul mood. He is 42, has 15 grandchildren and his only source of income is his battered accordion.

The children romp around him when he gets his instrument from the living room in the evening. He sits down in the courtyard in front of his bright-red house and plays a passage from Vivaldi's "Four Seasons." Merisor can't read music. He simply plays by ear, a skill that his father taught him.

The accordion player is a member of the Ursari caste of the Roma people. His ancestors went from village to village with their dancing bears. His German accordion, Hohner's "Verdi" model, was made before the war. It has been played so much that some of the keys are worn down to the bare wood.

For six weeks, Merisor tried to earn a living in France, but then French President Nicolas Sarkozy suddenly decided to rid himself of the Roma.

Populist Move

About 15,000 Roma live in France, most of them from Eastern Europe. Hundreds of them are often seen camped out on the outskirts of villages and cities, and most of them manage to scrape by as harvest hands.

After clashes between Roma and police in Grenoble and Saint-Aignan, Sarkozy decided that it was time to deport them. The decision, though widely criticized, even by the pope, is not one he is likely to regret. Opinion polls show that a large majority of the French population favors sending the "traveling people" back home.

The authorities also showed Merisor the door, even though, as a Romanian, he is a citizen of the European Union and cannot simply be deported like an asylum seeker whose application has been rejected.

The police sent 60 officers to the camp in Grenoble and initially told the Roma that they had to move. The city had set up a site on the outskirts, between the highway and the railroad tracks, says Merisor. But the police showed up in the new camp only a few days later. "I have orders," one officer said. "It's better if you go, or else you'll be thrown in jail," he reportedly threatened.

Merisor, like the others, heeded the officer's recommendation and packed up his accordion. Those who had been in France for more than two months received €300 ($380), which is about the average net monthly income in Romania.

Struggling to Get By

Merisor has been home in Barbulesti, about 60 kilometers (37 miles) northeast of Bucharest, for a week now. Hordes of black-haired children play with dogs on the potholed, unpaved village streets. There is no sewage system and garbage is strewn all over.

Merisor's grandfather built the house, a long, single-story building. His mother still lives there, as does Merisor with his wife Nuta, two sons, their wives and Merisor's grandchildren. The house has electricity and a satellite dish, but the women have to walk two kilometers to fetch water.

From the courtyard gate, the crumbling towers of an old sugar factory are visible on the horizon. Many Roma used to work there. But since the factory was shut down in 1990, practically everyone in Barbulesti has been unemployed.

Merisor is waiting for the next opportunity to play his accordion, perhaps at a wedding. He is well known in the surrounding villages, and people like to hire him to play Gypsy tunes. He earns 800 leu, or about €190, per event. "No one gives decent parties anymore since our country has been in crisis," he says. "We often don't have enough to eat."

Never Truly Accepted

Since the Romanian economic boom came to an abrupt end and turned into a financial crisis two years ago, unemployment has climbed to more than 7 percent in the country. There are hardly any new jobs, and Romanian employers generally prefer to hire pretty much anyone else other than Roma. Entire clans live off government subsidies for children and the meager pensions of the old people. They survive by working temporary jobs, trading scrap metal or begging. Many move to the West, to France, for example, to earn money.

Some 8-10 million Roma and Sinti live in the European Union. Their ancestors left India 1,000 years ago, but they were never truly accepted in Europe. For centuries, they took on the work that the local population was unwilling to do. They were not allowed to buy land and they were practically without rights. The Nazis murdered half a million Roma and Sinti.

The overwhelming majority lives in Eastern Europe today, often in shantytowns and garbage dumps. Very few attend school for more than a few years. They are widely viewed as thieves and beggars, and often they are, living from the money their children earn begging on the streets of Western Europe. The few that have managed to accumulate wealth build gaudy houses, usually next to the slums where the other Roma live.

Most Slovaks, Romanians, Poles, Czechs and Bulgarians despise them. In Hungary, right-wing extremists have murdered nine Roma in the last three years.

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Monko 08/31/2010
1. Unwanted in France...
Reading the article this comes to my mind: 1) Have only the children you can maintain. 15 grandchildren at 42 years old? and where are the parents of those? Please make a vasectomy! 2) Don´t have children if you expect that the government / other government will take care of them. This thinking only works in totalitarian / socialist states. Rough but is the reality.
esperonto 08/31/2010
2. Sarkozy Deports Himself
Sarkozy is from a Hungarian family. Since Roma are often hated in Eastern Europe, it makes sense that his mentality towards the Roma stems from his foreign Hungarian background. Since the Roma and Eastern Europeans are often related (some Roma are even blonde), its probable that Sarkozy is just deporting himself. It wouldn't bother me if they were sent to live in the town where I live in the USA. You have to admire their persistence. Northern Europeans didn't like me, because I was a foreigner, so I didn't want to stay around. My thinking was very literal: these people are insulated types, so I better clear out. Of course that was in Germany and England. But the Roma have the right idea, if you want to stay in Europe, you have to keep going back. I myself would not want to deal with French if they deported me.
esperonto 08/31/2010
3. Enjoying the Culture Enemies
With Europeans or even Asians, I have found there is a lot of stupidity, but there is also a lot from their cultures of value to me that they take for granted. I really despise American culture and would prefer to live abroad. But as this is difficult, I had to borrow many things from these foreigners, like eating bread that I borrowed from Turks and Uzbeks, or drinking Merlot. Some things one can take positive interest in. Esperanto comes from Poland as well as the Debian Linux system. I like music that comes from Romania, Serbia, and also Roma. With this collection of stuff I know from traveling, I can invent my own culture and cut out the idiots who come from those cultures. I think many foreigners to the USA do this as well, when they buy ipods or Apple computers or listen to rock music. They despise Americans but enjoy things from American culture.
BTraven 09/01/2010
4.
Would it be helpful for them to have their own country? Which country would sacrifice same area? Perhaps Europe has drifted too much to the right. The replacement of Roma would never have happened in an Europe of the 70s.
esperonto 09/03/2010
5. Turkey?
Zitat von BTravenWould it be helpful for them to have their own country? Which country would sacrifice same area? Perhaps Europe has drifted too much to the right. The replacement of Roma would never have happened in an Europe of the 70s.
I am starting to believe the Mediterranean is really better. Turkey is not bad. I remember Turks being sympathetic with the Roma, as they have similar Nomadic backgrounds. I asked one Turk about some Roma selling hats in Istanbul, and he said "They are like us, nomads." Turkey is good currently as they are having some conflicts with the West and Israel. They are more likely to take in Roma at this point. The problem with France, is Sarkozy had a Bush connection.
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