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France starts expelling its Roma

French approve of deportations as means to combat crime, but EU warns against racism.

Groups like France’s Human Rights League are collecting petition signatures against the president’s strict measures, and have called for opponents nationwide to send the government a message at rallies on Sept. 4. One lawmaker said the campsite raid round-ups were reminiscent of scenes from World War II.

Political opponents have accused the president of using the latest incidents to stoke security fears for political gain - his popularity ratings rose from 32 to 34 percent after the July announcements. Various polls revealed that more than 60 percent of French favored dismantling the camps.

A bank employee who did not want to be identified in exchange for speaking more candidly applauded the effort but was skeptical expulsion would accomplish much given that many could easily find a way to return. She said the Roma have brought such a lack of sympathy for their plight on themselves.

At her branch, she had noticed a marked increase in the number of attempted robberies by teenage Roma of customers as they withdrew from cash machines as well as an escalation in violence, which can include pushing and shoving.

“They’ve become more and more violent and more and more insolent,” said the woman who was standing outside her bank on a cigarette break. “The youngest I’ve seen was 11 years old.”

Just last week she said, two girls who were arrested by the police on a Tuesday were back at the branch two days later. “They know they risk nothing” because they are minors and cannot be held by police longer than a few hours. But how can you blame them when “it’s definitely a network,” most likely of adults inciting the teenagers to act even, she said.

The thefts occur more frequently between May and September in well-to-do neighborhoods frequented by tourists, and thieves sometimes can get away with as much as 2,000 euros in one transaction. They prey on the elderly, women and anyone who looks vulnerable, the employee said. “That could be my grandmother.”

It’s hard to feel sorry for them, the bank the employee said: “They attack people and earn more than I do.”