Toronto: India must speak up against France for the en masse expulsion of Indian-origin Roma people, said Ujjal Dosanjh, former Canadian health minister and top Indo-Canadian leader.
The Roma people - also called gypsies - claim their roots in north India from where they were enslaved and taken away by invaders from Afghanistan and Turkey almost a millennium ago. In the 14th and 15th centuries they scattered across central and eastern Europe where they have faced systemic discrimination since then.
Actor Charlie Chaplin and Nobel Laureate scientist August Krogh are among the hundreds of famous Roma people who have made their mark in various fields.
Ignoring protests from the UN, Amnesty International and other bodies, French President Nicolas Sarkozy has ordered the mass expulsion of Roma migrants - who moved into the country from Romania and Bulgaria which joined the European Union in 2007 - after incidents of riots and rising crime were blamed on them.
More than 8,000 Roma have already been deported this year, with France paying them 300 euros per adult and 100 euros per child.
Decrying the French action, Dosanjh said: "I am of Indian origin and I feel injustice is being done to the Roma people who have their roots in India. Though then prime minister Indira Gandhi held the first Roma global meet in Chandigarh, India has not stood for these people. It should speak up for them now. It has a moral obligation towards these people."
He said: "Roma didn`t leave India voluntarily. Thousands of them were enslaved and taken to Afghanistan by Mehmud of Ghazni who invaded India 17 times in the early 11th century. As the sultanate weakened, these people got their freedom and wandered into Europe in the 14th and 15 centuries. For five to six centuries in Europe, they have treated as an unwanted minority and discriminated against. There is no strong voice for them. France has now joined countries like Sweden, Denmark, Germany and Italy in expelling them."
With Canada attending the so-called "anti-Roma" meeting called by France next week amid its criticism by the UN, the Vatican, and Amnesty International, Dosanjh said, "Canada`s participation will harm its international standing. Sarkozy has invited Canada because this government is also right-wing government like his. But he is not inviting Romania, Poland and Bulgaria where these Roma migrants come from.
"You don`t go to a conference that is trying to exploit the issue (politically) and endorsing expulsion of people en masse."
Canada has reportedly been invited because it dealt with a large number of Roma from the Czech Republic and Hungary who sought refuge in the country, forcing Ottawa to impose visas on visitors from these countries last year.
Dosanjh, who became the first Indian-origin person to head a provincial government in the West when he was elected premier of Canada`s British Columbia province in 2000, said he is undertaking a mission to France for these beleaguered Indian-origin people.
"I will interact with anti-expulsion leaders like former French Prime Minister Dominique de Villepin (who is likely to join the 2012 presidential race) and Jean Pierre Grand and visit Roma camps," he said.
Villepin has slammed Sarkozy, calling the expulsions "a stain of shame on our flag".
In its report Friday, the UN Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination (CERD) also criticised France, urging Sarkozy to "avoid collective repatriations in particular and work towards lasting solutions to challenges with the Roma based on the complete respect of their human rights".