The future for gypsies in France

Alison Eastaway - The future of gypsies in France - Ma Vie Francaise - My French Life -
Mention the subject of Roms (Roma, in English) or ‘gypsies’ to a French person and you will quickly realise that this is somewhat of a national sore spot, and perhaps rightly so. It’s a little bit like bringing up the touchy subject of the Stolen Generation with an Australian.

Groups of people from Romania and Bulgaria have lived in France for hundreds of years and many are part of longstanding communities.1 Major populations reside in Paris, Lille and Lyon.


The general sentiment in Europe seems to be that these groups are thieves and criminals, though Roms do not see themselves this way, and many state their desire to work.2 As one young Roma living in the streets of Paris told France 24 in August:

“You think I like to live like a dog? I would rather work, and I am a hard worker. I would take any work, but for the moment there are zero opportunities.”2

The situation in France

Pre-2007, perhaps it was enough for the French public to largely disregard the Roms and hope they might move on. But since Romania and Bulgaria’s accession to the European Union in 2007, the game has changed.

Transitory measures remain in place, however, and prevent Romanians and Bulgarians from working in France without need for a work permit.3 The Roms say it is extremely difficult to get a work permit.4

Former French President Sarkozy was criticised for his hard-line approach to the situation, destroying many camps and deporting more than 1000 Romanian and Bulgarian citizens back to their home countries in 2010.6


It seems however, that it isn’t only the centre-right camp who are concerned about the situation, with newly-instated President Hollande reneging on his election promises to find a more sustainable solution and, two years later, appearing to follow in Sarkozy’s footsteps.7

France’s approach vs. the rest of Europe

This is not only a hot topic in France, but in many other EU countries as well, including England, Italy and Greece. The one country receiving good press amongst the overwhelmingly negative discourse is Spain.

Whilst many argue that the situation in Spain isn’t comparable to that in France, Spain has taken an alternative approach that seems to work for them. Their focus is on inclusion of these communities, via the provision of subsidised education, access to national healthcare schemes and, perhaps most relevant in the context of France, the right to work.8

We could go round in circles here in what largely amounts to a chicken and the egg dilemma – but the question remains, what is a sustainable solution for both the Roma and for France?

The right to work: a solution for France?

The vice president of France’s League for Human Rights, Malik Salemkour, believes:

“The right to work is fundamental to the fate of Roma in France and elsewhere…the current system condemns them to begging and hamstrings any meaningful attempts to integrate them into the community.”9


I for one will be fascinated to revisit this topic post 31 December 2013, when all transitory measures cease and the right to work in France without a work permit is extended to Romanians and Bulgarians. But will this be enough, or does an issue as complex as this require a multifaceted solution?

What do you think?
1 France begins deporting hundreds of gypsies from illegal camps by Peter Allen 19 August 2010
2 The Roma who live and beg on the streets of Paris by Charlotte Boitiaux 23/08/12
3, 7, 9 France dismantles Roma camps, deports hundreds by Tony Todd 10/08/12
4 France sends Roma gypsies back to Romania by Christian Fraser 20 August 2010
5 France and the Gypsies, Then and Now by Robert Zaretsky and Olivia Miljanic September 6 2010
6 Paris Dismantles Gypsy Camp, Families Vanish by Lori Hinnant August 8 2012
8 Spain’s Tolerance of Gypsies: A Model for Europe? by Andreas Cala Sept. 16 2010
Image credits
1 philippe leroyer on Flickr.

2 Luke Robinson on Flickr.
3 Globovision on Flickr.
philippe leroyer on Flickr.

About the Contributor

Alison Eastaway

“I am Australian-born but Parisienne at heart. I've spent 8 years in Paris, and can usually be found sipping coffee on café terraces or snuggling up with my cat and a book. Follow me on Twitter, or find me on LinkedIn."

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  1. Elisabeth Donato Sep 13, 2012 at 11:15 PM - Reply

    Oh, God, this is a tough topic. It is heart-wrenching to see droves of Roms begging on the streets and at major traffic lights, often dragging very tiny children who also beg (I come from the suburbs of Lille, and was there min May and June, and I saw, indeed, many Roms in the area…)
    And, frankly, I am not sure what the solution is, but giving Roms the right to work seems to be a step in the right direction…

  2. Hella Ibrahim Sep 14, 2012 at 9:39 AM - Reply

    Giving them the right to work is a step in the right direction, definately. Actually getting the French to hire them to work anything other than menial, underpaid jobs is another thing entirely.

  3. Alison Eastaway Sep 15, 2012 at 7:04 AM - Reply

    Thank you very much for your comments Elisabeth and Hella. Indeed a very tough topic, and Lille is right at the heart of it all. Hella I tend to agree, the right to work is only the beginning and greater change may be required.

  4. Sophie Dugourd Sep 15, 2012 at 5:56 PM - Reply

    Gypsies in France want to work ? There are 3 millions of French people who are unemployed and would like to have a job too … Work permit or not, the problem is the same for everybody.

  5. Ella Coquine Sep 17, 2012 at 1:14 AM - Reply

    What an informative article. This was great, Alison. Thank you.

    Sophie, I was thinking the same thing. Unemployment in general is a major problem here.

    As an American in Paris, finding work also has been no easy feat. When I find myself complaining that no one will hire me for a job I am qualified for, I think of all of my French friends who are unemployed and this puts me in check.

    I learned to realize that no one is forcing me to stay here. If I didn’t agree with French laws and felt that they weren’t in favor of me as a foreigner, instead of protesting, I would go back home where I’d be a citizen and perhaps have better opportunities. But that’s just me.

    It should be interesting to see how this all unfolds.

  6. Fitz Sep 17, 2012 at 11:25 AM - Reply

    C’est un phénomène mondial. Avec la satanée obsession des grosses légumes des entreprises mondialisées qui ne visent qu’à s’accumuler autant de profit que possible, la situation économique se détériore pitoyablement. Les Roms occupent un échelon inférieur mais ressentent quand même les effets nefastes de ce qui se passe. Et ils deviennent, comme plein de marginalisés, la cible des injures et du dédain du public français.

  7. Ella Coquine Sep 20, 2012 at 10:57 PM - Reply

    I want to add to my comment. After discussion with my boyfriend, he filled me in on the difficulties in Romania, and it wouldn’t be as easy as just going back home where I assumed they’d be eligible to work, and would be treated better as citizens. I was unaware that their only choice is to stay in France.

    Again, it will be interesting how this all unfolds and the future of France with the new president.

  8. Alison Eastaway Sep 30, 2012 at 8:35 PM - Reply

    Thank you very much Sophie, Ella and Fitz for your comments, indeed unemployment is a very hot topic in France right now, for the French, the Roma and expats alike.

    Fitz, vous avez raison, on peut considerer les effets du enterprises mondiales aussi dans cette discussion.

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