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"Roma invasion" a myth: Council of Europe commissioner

STRASBOURG, July 16 (Xinhua) -- There is no real evidence of a disproportionate rise in Roma migration to European Union (EU) countries, Council of Europe's (CoE) Commissioner for Human Rights Nils Muiznieks said Thursday.

Writing in his latest human rights comment column published Thursday, Muiznieks said it was "time to debunk myths and prejudices about Roma migrants in Europe."

Political and media debates on Roma migration have come alive in several European countries. Since the eastward expansion of the EU in 2004 and 2007, and the lifting of employment restrictions on Romanian and Bulgarian citizens in a number of member states in 2014, fears of Roma migration have often triggered comments that Muiznieks said are often "uninformed and inflammatory."

"Media in the United Kingdom, Germany, Switzerland, Italy and other countries have often put forward unfounded figures about actual or potential arrivals of Roma," he said.

He maintained there had been no "invasion" of Roma migrants from Bulgaria and Romania since the lifting of the employment restrictions for citizens from these countries in other EU member states.

"In France, for example, it is estimated that the number of Roma migrants is around 15,000 to 20,000, a stable figure since the beginning of the 2000s. Last year, during a visit to a Roma migrant settlement in Strasbourg, I was informed that the overall number of Roma there has remained at around 400 persons over the last few years," Muiznieks said.

"It is time that politicians and media stop playing on fears of massive inflows of migrants and stigmatizing Roma in this context," he added, "They should instead use objective demographic and economic data. Racist rhetoric should be firmly condemned at the highest level and ethical journalism should be promoted."

Another common misconception, said the commissioner, is that Roma migrants are often depicted as abusing social welfare and refusing any form of integration in the host societies.

"However, these perceptions are not supported by facts," he commented.

In a 2013 study, the European Commission found that intra-EU migrants, which include Roma, make a net contribution to their host countries, by paying more in taxes than they receive in benefits.

Moreover, they are in general less likely to request assistance from unemployment services and to receive family and child-related benefits than their native born counterparts.

"Importantly, diversity among Roma immigrants is often overlooked. Many Roma are working and have integrated well in their new host countries," Muiznieks stated.

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