Tuesday, January 17, 2006


Landlords 14 - Nomads 0

At dawn on January 11, 2006, Michel Habig, mayor of the Alsatian town of Ensisheim (pop. 6700) burned fourteen trailers belonging to "Gens du voyage" (Gypsies). They were camping without a permit. Although the mayor was accompanied by six police officers, and they were equiped with a forklift to facilitate feeding the bonfire, no court order had been granted to permit this act.

Liberation reports that in 2001, the access road to the area had been blocked by two heaps of manure. On another occasion, the electric power line to the area was "accidentally" severed by a municipal lawn mower.

Less than a month before, and not very far away, the first "European Forum of Roma and Travellers" was held in Strasbourg (13-15 December). This community comprises twelve million people in Europe. The forum brought together five international organizations of Roms, and delegations from 42 European countries (not just the 25). This community's members are often victims of discrimination; a million were killed by the Nazis, and more recently thousands were victims in the Balkans. They have great difficulty asserting and obtaining the rights of its members; health care, education, and employment are all complicated by their mobility. The December meeting was the occasion to sign a partnership agreement between the ERTF and the Council of Europe to defend the community against the discrimination it so often faces.

May 31, 1990, France passed a law known as the "Besson Law" requiring all villages, towns, and cities of 5000 or more inhabitants to include suitable sites for Roms, Travellers and Gypsies in their land use plans. However, the law did not specify penalties for non-compliance; ten years later, only a quarter had complied. In July, 2000, the law was reinforced by a second law which sanctions non-compliance, and provides national subsidies (70%) for the cost of the installation of the sites. Once towns provide the sites, they may forbid camping anywhere else.

Ensisheim has not yet installed its site. Ensisheim is only about 1700 people over the threshhold. Perhaps the mayor could leave and encourage a third of his town to follow, so those who remain would be exempted from the requirement.

The Court of Colmar has openned a case. The mayor could face ten years in prison and 150 000 euros fine.
Tags: Roms Ensisheim Alsace Council of Europe Strasbourg

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