PARIS - Interior Minister Manuel Valls on Wednesday insisted he stood by a controversial call for tens of thousands of ethnic Roma to be kicked out of France.
Valls has triggered an outcry from human rights groups, the European Commission and some of his government colleagues by saying any Roma not working should be "delivered back to the borders", describing their way of life as "extremely different from ours," and claiming they will never integrate into French society.
The latter remark earned the minister a rebuke from his cabinet colleague, Arnaud Montebourg, who pointedly alluded to Valls' own status as the Barcelona-born son of Spanish immigrants who left for France during Franco's dictatorship.
"A theory that such and such a person or such and such a people will never, ever be able to integrate just doesn't stand up," Montebourg said.
"That's what they said about the Italians, that's what they said about the Spanish, it's what they said about the Portuguese, and what they said about the Arabs.
"Decreeing in advance that it is impossible seems to me excessive and is worthy of being corrected."
Valls hit back: "I've got nothing to correct. My remarks only shock those who don't know the subject."
He then repeated remarks that Amnesty International described as likely to "perpetuate stereotypes and encourage animosity" towards the 20,000 plus Roma currently living in France in makeshift camps.
"The majority (of Roma) should be delivered back to the borders," Valls said. "We are not here to welcome these people. I'd remind you of (former Socialist premier) Michel Rocard's statement: It's not France's job to deal with the misery of the whole world."