France: Imminent "Humanitarian Fingerprinting" of Roma with OSCAR
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Deutsch: Frankreich: Drohende Stigmatisierung von Roma durch OSCAR
The xenophobic anti-Roma campaign run by the French government following President Sarkozy's discourse at the end of July has led to the brutal dismantling of numerous Roma camps, and to the expulsion of 1 000 foreign Roma people from the country within the last month. How could this happen, given that most if not all of them are either from Romania or Bulgaria? As EU citizens since 1 January 2007, they should normally benefit from freedom of movement in the Union. The reality is that Romanians and Bulgarians are actually treated as 2nd class EU citizens in countries such as France, where restrictions have been imposed on their right to stay, even for a less than 3 month period. As a consequence, they can be expelled from the country inter alia in case they "threaten the public order" or they "constitute an unreasonable charge to the French social assistance system". Sarkozy's government suddenly decided that Roma settlements are highly threatening French public order. Courts disagree though, as recent annulment of expulsion decisions in Lille have shown. However, such legal recourse can seldom occur, when one only has 48 hours to file the case, not to mention the immense practical difficulties for this population to exercise such rights, even with the support of French NGOs.
This highly publicized campaign has shed the light on a French database called OSCAR ( Tool for Repatriation Aid Statistics and Control - "Outil de Statistiques et de Contrôle de l'Aide au Retour" in French), created by decree in October 2009. OSCAR aims at collecting biometric data (digital photograph and 10 fingerprints) of foreigners expelled from the country or even leaving it voluntarily, with the benefit of a small grant. In the case of EU citizens, the grant takes the form of a "humanitarian repatriation help" of 300 Euro per person, with an additional 100 Euro for each accompanying child. In such case, if the child is more than 12 years old, his biometric data are also collected and stored in OSCAR. These data are stored during 5 years.
It must be noted that, although this seems recent news to the general public, to the European Commission and to the international press, the French government decided to set up this "humanitarian repatriation help" for EU citizens at the end of 2006, anticipating the "consequences" of Romania and Bulgaria adhesion to the EU. This can be directly inferred from an inter-ministerial administrative document of 7 December 2006 and from a provision of the 2007 Immigration law authorizing the fingerprinting of the "repatriation grant" recipients. As official data shows, before 1 January 2007, Romanian and Bulgarian citizens formed 25% of the total number of expelled irregular migrants. After they became EU citizens, the number of "humanitarian repatriation help" grew from less than 400 in 2005 and 2006 to almost 3 000 in 2007, more than 10 000 in 2008 (81% of them granted to Romanians and 9% to Bulgarians) and more than 12 000 in 2009 (83% granted to Romanians and 7% to Bulgarians). As documented by many NGOs, the French government has been forcing Roma people to sign on the "humanitarian repatriation help", as this is the only really "legal" mean to expel them. The novelty thus resides in the spectacular Roma-bashing political campaign.
Three French NGOs, among them EDRI member IRIS, have filed a complaint in December 2009 before the Conseil d'Etat, to obtain the annulment of the OSCAR database. Together with GISTI (an association defending the rights of migrants) and LDH (French Human Rights League), IRIS claims that the biometric nature of the data and the duration of its storage are arbitrary and disproportionate, given the purpose of the database, which is simply the management of the grant attribution in order to ensure that one cannot claim it twice. It is also disproportionate given the amount of the grant, which is minimal. The complaint also includes other legal arguments, such as the storage of the foreigners' addresses in their own country, and the possibility to interconnect OSCAR with AGDREF, the foreigners' register, containing a lot more information for different purposes, though no biometric data so far.
While only non biometric data were stored in OSCAR till now, since the biometric fingerprints collecting system was not yet acquired and installed, Eric Besson, French minister of Immigration, recently announced in the framework of the current anti-Roma campaign, that biometrics will be in place in OSCAR starting on 1 October. In an immediate reaction, GISTI, IRIS and LDH have asked the Conseil d'Etat to process their complaint in emergency.
The xenophobic anti-Roma campaign, which has been facing strong reactions from very diverse sources in the country and abroad, needs to be urgently stopped. The 3 NGOs also remind in their press release that the OSCAR database concerns an even larger public, that is, all foreigners, EU citizens or not, staying legally or illegally in France and likely to receive any form of "repatriation help". As stated by a member of the Parliament from the opposition in 2007, during the discussion of the latest Immigration law providing for fingerprinting this population: "So, even back to their country, foreigners would annoy us to the extent that we need to file them!". At least, they annoy Sarkozy and its supporters.
EU questions legality of French Roma expulsions (01.09.2010)
NGOs press release: "Biometric filing of Roma: the Conseil d'Etat Annulment
of OSCAR file becomes urgent" (only in French,31.08.2010)
IRIS Dossier on OSCAR and related documents
(Contribution by Meryem Marzouki, EDRI-member IRIS - France)