Germany denies plan to deport Roma migrants

German Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle yesterday contradicted remarks by French President Nicolas Sarkozy that Chancellor Angela Merkel had told him that she intended to clear Roma camps in the coming weeks.

Westerwelle said the Chancellor had informed him that there was no such discussion with Sarkozy at the European Union summit in Brussels on Thursday. "There are no such plans. I think this is a misunderstanding," he told journalists in Berlin.

Sarkozy told a news conference at the conclusion of the one-day summit that Merkel had told him that she plans to take similar steps as in France to clear Roma camps. "We will see how calm German politics will become then," he said.

Earlier, the French President had a heated exchange with the European Commission over its indirect comparison of France's expulsion of Roma minorities with the persecution of Jews and Roma by the Nazis during World War II.

The French authorities have cleared around 200 "illegal" Roma camps since August and more than 1,000 Roma refugees were deported to Rumania and Bulgaria.

A German government spokesman also emphatically rejected Sarkozy's remark and said chancellor Merkel had no discussion with Sarkozy on the "so-called Roma camps" during the summit or on its sidelines.

With his remarks, Sarkozy touched on a very sensitive issue in Germany, not the least because Germany too has been deporting Roma migrants, even though on a much smaller scale than by France and Italy.

Around 12,000 Roma refugees from Kosovo are presently staying in Germany and most of them will be gradually sent back to their home country under a bilateral agreement with the government in Pristina, which was signed in April.

However, the UN refugee agency and several human rights organisations have warned that the security situation in Kosovo is still not quite safe for the displaced Roma population.

Unlike, the Roma migrants deported by France to Rumania and Bulgaria, the refugees from Kosovo have no right to return to Germany because their country is not a member of the EU.

During the first seven months of this year 364 persons, including 102 Roma, were deported Kosovo, according to the German Interior Ministry. Last year, 541 persons were sent back to Kosovo and among them were 76 Roma.

Westerwelle insisted that Germany has been deporting "illegal" residents regardless of their of their ethnic origin or race and only after a case-by-case examination. "This is our legal situation and anything else is in violation of the constitution," he said.

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