INTERNATIONAL concerns have been rising over France’s closures of illegal gypsy camps and forced deportations.
The Pope, the European Commission and the United Nations have all commented on the country’s actions in recent weeks, which have seen about 850 gypsies flown to Romania and Bulgaria.
Speaking in French to pilgrims at his summer residence of Castel Gandolfo, Benedict XVI called for a rethink, saying Jesus acted to bring together "men from every nation and every language. The scriptures tell us all men are called to salvation. It is also an invitation to accept human diversity, to follow Jesus."
The UN Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination queried the legality of the deportations, as the gypsies are European citizens, in a study into the France’s behaviour towards minorities.
It also criticised the way travelling communities are treated in France, including a policy of limiting voting rights to those who have lived for several months in one commune. The government "lacked political will" to tackle mounting acts of racism, the committee added.
The European Commission said it was following developments "very attentively" to check France is not breaking free movement rules.
However France has insisted it is not doing so and that no one deported had the legal right to stay here. European Affairs minister Pierre Lellouche said France supported human rights, a political idea that it had in effect invented more than 200 years ago.
The Pope was not the only priest to speak out. The Archbishop of Aix and Arles, Monseigneur Christophe Dufour, said he saw a camp broken up and thought the occupants were "treated as inferior", and a Lille priest said he was praying for divine intervention and for President Sarkozy to have a heart attack (he later apologised).