It has emerged that Europe's Roma communities, at the centre of an immigration row in France, are often driven out by poverty from their homes in Romania and Bulgaria, the European Union's two most impoverished members.
"Here we are like vagabonds. We don't have work, we have nothing," said Gheorghe Ion, one of the Roma repatriated to Bucharest by France as part of a government crackdown on illegal Gypsy camps that some have labelled racist and xenophobic.
AdvertisementAnother Romanian Roma, or Gypsy, who left the French city of Grenoble with his family told AFP: "We will stay home if we find work but it's difficult because this country (Romania) is poorer" than France.
Romania has been hit with one of the worst recessions in the 27-nation EU bloc since 2009.
The economy is expected to contract again this year and the government has to take drastic austerity measures, including cutting public sector salaries by 25 percent, to meet IMF conditions for a loan.
Many Romanians, not just Roma, have been forced to try their luck abroad, most heading for Spain and Italy, and some for France.
Most the Roma who migrate come from the very poor rural communities, where there are huge problems in education and infrastructure, said Mihai Neacsu, director of the Roma rights organisation Amare Rromentza.
They however account for a small part of the estimated 530,000 to 2.5 million Roma living in Romania.
Elsewhere in Europe, Bulgaria has between 700,000 to 800,000 Roma, according to non-governmental organisations, or 350,000 according to the national census.
Up to about 450,000 Roma live in Serbia and between 350,000 to 530,000 in Slovakia, according to European figures.
In Bulgaria, 50,000 Roma are believed to have left the country in the last five years, often clandestinely, for Italy, Spain, Greece and Germany, according to Ilona Tomova, a researcher at the Bulgarian sciences academy.
Besides poverty, Roma suffer from rejection by some Bulgarians who see them as thieves and ignorant, according to a 2009 study.
The antipathy is replicated in Romania where a government study in 2009 found that seven out of 10 people would not want a Roma as part of their family.
Both the Romanian and Bulgarian governments have launched programmes to improve access for Romas to education and health care and to help them fight discrimination in the workplace.
Romania, with European funding, has launched six programmes for some 22 million euros (28 million dollars) including schooling for young Romas and a chance for drop-outs to resume their studies.
But NGOs say much more in needed -- a view endosed by Bucharest which has also called for a Europe-wide plan to address the needs of the Roma minority.