Rights groups and anti-racism groups accuse the government of seeking to stigmatise ethnic Roma and the French travelling community.
The government announced on Wednesday a number of measures to clamp down on trevelling communities, including the deportation of foreigners breaking the law and tax inspections on households in illicit camps.
“Tax inspectors will be sent to inspect the households of the inhabitants of these illicit camps because a lot of our compatriots are rightly surprised to see the caravans pulled by certain powerful cars,” said Hortefeux.
On Tuesday, Sarkozy called a meeting to discuss the Roma and travelling communities in response to an attack on a police station in Saint-Aignan, central France. A statement issued by the president’s office said many in the camps were involved in “smuggling, exploiting children for begging, prostitution or delinquency”.
Last week, masked rioters tried to break down the door of the police station, damaged other building and burned down cars during the attack, sparked after police shot dead a Roma youth.
The French pressure group The Voice of the Rroms accuses the government of singling out the Roma community. “As often, the ruling class, which is tangled up in financial scandals, is targeting their favourite scapegoats the tsiganes,” their statement read.
Authorities estimate there are about 400,000 French travellers and 15,000 ethnic Roma, who are believed to have come from Romania and Bulgaria, living in France.