A secret Roma database?

This is a guest post by Sarah

New concerns have recently been raised about the treatment of the Roma in France. Last month EDRi (European Digital Rights) reported on OSCAR, (Tool for Repatriation Aid Statistics and Control or “Outil de Statistiques et de Contrôle de l’Aide au Retour”) which was created in 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.”

This seems an arbitrary and excessive mechanism.

On 8 October Le Monde reported on a Roma database kept by the French police, describing it as completely illegal and clandestine.

Although some have disputed the existence of this database, the evidence presented by Le Monde seems convincing. As always, in these debates, there is some ambiguity as to whether the database is actually targeting people on grounds of ethnicity . But as Le Monde points out, the apparent inclusion of whole families is dubious – ‘toute une famille n’est pas responsable des errements de certains des leurs.’ A whole family is not responsible for the crimes of some of its members. Moreover, the database is sometimes referred to using the acronym MENS, minorités ethniques non sédentarisées, travelling ethnic minorities. It would seem that such a database would be illegal under French law which prohibits the gathering of official data along racial or ethnic lines.

In a related development it has also been claimed that the French police have been collecting DNA samples from Roma who have neither been arrested nor charged.