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Book Review: Deporting Europeans: The Racialized Mobility of Romanians in France

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Ellen Vandennieuwenhuysen
PhD student, Law Faculty, University of Antwerp

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4 Minutes

Guest post by Ellen Vandennieuwenhuysen. Ellen is a PhD student at the law faculty of the University of Antwerp, funded by FWO (project number: 11K5221N). She conducts research on the influence criminal convictions on the right of residence, and vice versa, she investigates the influence of residence status on punishments and their implementation. In doing so, she compares the law and practice of Belgium and France, and assesses their conformability with fundamental rights and other inter- and supranational instruments.

Review of Deporting Europeans: The Racialized Mobility of Romanians in France by Ioana Vrăbiescu (Rowman & Littlefield 2021)

Deporting EuropeansWith her latest book, Vrăbiescu provides a comprehensive insight in the deportation system of France, focused on its repercussions for Romanians and in particular ‘Roma’. She examines this phenomenon as a case study, and presents it innovatively as an example of uneven sovereignty in Europe. According to Vrăbiescu, “central states like France and peripheral states like Romania reflect and maintain structures of inequality between states through the deportation of EU citizens” (2). Not only is this argument refreshing, but her research is also innovative because it looks at an under researched area: the deportation of European Union citizens.

To get a detailed insight into this phenomenon, Vrăbiescu conducted fieldwork in France and in Romania; she spent time in courts and talked with lawyers, NGO workers, deportees, police officers, and staff in the French and Romanian administrations. She studied several other sources, such as sociological, historical, and political literature, as well as laws, (unpublished) ministerial circulars, and bilateral agreements at national and EU-level.

Drawing on her own research experiences and these other sources, Vrăbiescu uncovers an extremely interesting system in which France and Romania collaborate to police and deport Romanians, but mainly 'Roma' ethnics, en masse, and also prohibit them from re-entering the country afterwards. Before explaining this system in detail, the first chapter establishes the historical and ideological context to French and Romanian collaboration.

In chapter two, Vrăbiescu argues that the French-Romanian policy of forced mobility challenges the EU principle of freedom of movement. Vrăbiescu furthermore reveals how EU institutional inertia and legal gaps allow France and Romania to implement joint programs of forced mobility for Romanian citizens of Roma ethnicity. These programs involve bureaucratic exclusion through non-registration and de-documenting, the use of ‘Roma camps’ as spaces of confinement and surveillance, evictions, ‘voluntary’ returns via pay-to-go schemes and reinsertion programs, administrative detentions and expulsions. It is very difficult for Roma ethnics to legally challenge these practices.

According to Vrăbiescu, one of the reasons for these policies is that France tries to respond to “anxieties triggered by the securitization of mobility and intra-EU migration” (40). To legitimise these discriminatory practices and policies, France racially portrays Roma citizens as unwanted criminal migrants who constitute a threat to public order because of their poverty and begging practices. Furthermore, the French state externalises the ‘problem’ of poor Romanians within France by attributing responsibility to “the so-called under-developed, non-democratic, corrupt countries, such as Romania” (40).

In chapter 3, Vrăbiescu notes how Roma are criminalised so that the state has sufficient evidence that Roma pose a danger to public order, which is a necessary condition for attaching an entry ban to an expulsion order. They are accused of begging, pickpocketing, shoplifting, gambling, without being convicted criminally. The criminal justice system is not even set in motion. Moreover, this is sometimes not even possible, as several of these petty misdemeanours cannot be legally prosecuted and punished under French criminal law. Instead, administrative deportations, preceded by a stay in detention centres or in police jails, are imposed on the basis of police records alone. As I am myself researching how criminal convictions can influence an offenders residence status, I find this practice to be remarkable. However, even the Court of Justice of the EU seems not to require  criminal convictions to deport EU-citizens, just as in the case of deportations of third country nationals in conformity with the Return Directive. Nevertheless, as she rightfully argues, deportation is seen as a criminal punishment, by both the state and the deported person, even if the European Court of Human Rights fails to see this.

In chapter 4, she examines ethnographically the application of the bilateral agreement between France and Romania. The agreement directs Romanian police officers to assist the French police in protecting Romanian tourists in Paris. In practice, Romanian police officers are supporting the French police by controlling and identifying Roma ethnics so that they can be deported.

In chapter 5, Vrăbiescu shines light on the role and influence of technology in the expulsion process. She also points out the less known but far-reaching consequences of deportation of EU citizens, one of them being the recording of (sometimes administrative) offences which have not been prosecuted as crimes in the Schengen Information System where they can be analysed by Romania and other member states. She therefore argues that the Schengen agreement and the Schengen border allow for a surveillance policy against EU citizens.

In her final chapter, Vrăbiescu explains how both states see their collaboration as a win-win, and how they negotiate and reinforce their sovereign power within the EU through this collaboration. According to her, the Romanian state offers police support in exchange for recognition and European belonging. Rather provocatively, she argues that Romania acts as a (self-)colonising state. France on the other hand “whitewashes [through this collaboration] potential damage to its image as the land of human rights” (130) which erasing the Roma minority from its territory could cause, and France confirms its sovereign status within the EU. Furthermore, she returns to her main argument, that by deporting and collaborating to deport EU citizens, central states like France and peripheral states like Romania cement structures of inequality and hierarchy.

Vrăbiescu questions and criticises the EU for not preventing practices established via bilateral agreements which increase the negotiated sovereignty of states within the EU. She problematises the inability of the EU institutions to oppose these practices and hold states accountable. In Vrăbiescu’s opinion, by permitting these practices, the EU institutions are legitimising them. As a result, “the long-lasting consequences of processes of colonization, subordination, and racialization weigh on the shoulders of the poor citizens of Europe” (149).

I wonder, however, whether and to what extent Vrăbiescu’s arguments can indeed be generalised as she claims, since she provides neither documentation of similar practices by other states towards Roma citizens nor documentation of similar practices by France or other states towards other EU citizens. This might be the subject of further research.

This book gives a detailed insight into state action against Roma and can be of major value for not only people interested in migration, border, crimmigration, and police studies, but also for people interested in the anthropology of the state, citizenship studies, minority rights, and the concept of sovereignty. Vrăbiescu’s research is rather activistic, as it exposes a highly questionable practice and denounces it frequently. In short, her book, in which she holistically unravels the targeted practices against Roma ethnics, is definitely a must read.

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How to cite this blog post (Harvard style):

E. Vandennieuwenhuysen. (2022) Book Review: Deporting Europeans: The Racialized Mobility of Romanians in France. Available at:https://blogs.law.ox.ac.uk/border-criminologies-blog/blog-post/2022/10/book-review-deporting-europeans-racialized-mobility. Accessed on: 17/04/2024

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