France’s Immigration Chief Revisits The Roma Expulsion Issue, In Romania

The head of the French Immigration service recently concluded a visit to Bucharest, where he made a first-hand inspection of Ferentari, the city’s principal Roma neighborhood. France’s goal this year is to send up to 30,000 Roma back to their countries of

Roma in Paris.
Roma in Paris.
Mirel Bran

BUCHAREST -- As soon as he arrived in the French embassy in Bucharest, Arno Klarsfeld asked for a glass of water and ibuprofen. After a three-hour flight and a visit to Ferentari, the Roma community in the Romanian capital, the new director of the French immigration service looked exhausted.

He didn't mice words in talking about his visit to the Roma, which suffer severe discrimination in Romania and often come to France in search of a better life. "I saw families with eight children who lived in one room. That isn't good," he said. "You shouldn't have eight children if you only have one room. Then, the mafia leaders come and say, ‘you're going to give me two kids to go beg or prostitute themselves." France is going to be tough. Legislative measures to end all of this will be reinforced."

During his visit last week, Klarsfeld visited Bucharest and Timisoara to evaluate programs adopted by the French immigration service that are designed to assist emigrants who would like to return to their home country. In 2010, around 10,000 Roma were sent back to Romania and Bulgaria from France. Paris tries to encourage these departures by offering 300 euros to people who agree to return to their country of origin. Often, however, these "expelled" people make the trip home only to turn around and come back to France a couple of weeks later, completely legally.

At least when it comes to numbers, the there-and-back phenomenon actually helps the French government, which expect by the end of the year to reach its goal of 30,000 expulsions. These expulsions, which some advocates say have been going on for years but which gain publicity during the summer of 2010, have been criticized as racially motivated and condemned by the European Union and United Nations.

Non-profit naysayers

France promises Roma who sign up for the "voluntary departure" program 3,600 euros in assistance if they can present a business plan that will settle them in Romania permanently. Since the beginning of the program, in 2006, the French immigration service has financed 498 such projects and spent 2 million euros.

Although these policies have been criticized by many non-profits, they are supposed to be reinforced under Arno Klarsfeld's direction. "France will continue to encourage Roma to return to Romania by giving them 300 euros," he affirmed. "But if the crisis continues, these measures will be criticized more and more. The picture these organizations paint does not correspond to reality, and they tend to annoy a large part of the population and increase the popularity of the extreme right." The immigration director says he is ready to take on his challengers.

Read the original article in French.

Photo - Serge Melki

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Saving The Planet Is Really A Question Of Dopamine

Our carelessness toward the environment could be due, in part, to the functioning of a very primitive area of our brain: the striatum.

Ad scuba-diver and brain coral

Stefano Lupieri

PARIS — Almost every week, a new scientific study alerts us to the degradation of the environment. And yet, we continue not to change anything fundamental in our systems of production and habits of consumption. Are we all suffering from blindness, or poisoned by denial?

In his popular books Le Bug humain (The Human Bug) and Où est le sens? (Where is the Sense?), Sébastien Bohler, a journalist in neuroscience and psychology, provides a much more rational explanation: The mechanism responsible for our propensity to destroy our natural environment is in fact a small, very deep and very primitive structure of our brain called the striatum.

This regulator of human motivation seems to have been programmed to favor behaviors that ensure the survival of the species.

Addictions to sex and social media

Since the dawn of humanity, gathering information about our environment, feeding ourselves, ensuring the transmission of our genes through sexual intercourse and asserting our social status have all been rewarded with a shot of dopamine, the 'pleasure hormone.'

Nothing has changed since then; except that, in our society of excess, there is no limit to the satisfaction of these needs. This leads to the overconsumption of food and addictions to everything from sex to social media — which together account for much of the world's destructive agricultural and energy practices.

No matter how much we realize that this is leading to our downfall, we can't help but relapse because we are prisoners of the dopamine pump in the striatum, which cannot be switched off.

Transverse section of striatum from a structural MRI image

Lindsay Hanford and Geoff B Hall via Wikipedia

Tweaking genetics 

According to Bohler, the only way out is to encourage the emergence of new values of sobriety, altruism and slowness. If adopted, these more sustainable notions could be recognized by the striatum as new sources of dopamine reward. But there's the challenge of promoting inspiring stories that infuse them with value.

Take the photo-collage exhibition "J'agis ici... et je m'y colle" ("I'm taking action here... and I'm sticking to it"), a collection of life-size portraits of residents committed to the energy transition, displayed on the walls of the French coastal city of La Rochelle.

Backed by the French National Center for Street Arts, photographer Martin Charpentier may be employing artistic techniques, but he's also tinkering with neuroscience in the process.

Les Echos
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