French mayor denies refusing burial of Roma baby amid uproar

AFP Photo/Kenzo Tribouillard

Champlan (France) (AFP) – A French mayor accused of refusing to bury the baby of a Roma family in the municipal cemetery denied the claims Sunday, as fury mounted in France over the case.

Christian Leclerc, the conservative mayor of Champlan, about 23 kilometres (14 miles) south of Paris, sparked uproar by reportedly denying the family a burial plot on the grounds the cemetery has “few available plots”.

“Priority is given to those who pay their local taxes,” Leclerc was quoted as saying by Le Parisien daily on Saturday.

However, Leclerc told AFP on Sunday his words had been “taken out of context” and he had been a victim of the “wrong interpretation”.

“At no stage was I opposed to this burial. It’s been blown out of proportion,” he said.

Leclerc said he was “really sorry” that the story had become such big news and said he would offer his condolences to the family.

But his denial failed to stem the anger, with Prime Minister Manuel Valls taking to Twitter to say: “Refusing a child a burial because of its roots is an insult to its memory, an insult to France.”

Earlier Sunday, Laurence Rossignol, a junior government minister for the family, said on Twitter the refusal was “an inhumane humiliation” for the family, adding the hashtag #honte or “shame”.

And France’s defender of human rights, Jacques Toubon, said he was “shocked, stunned by the news”.

The baby, identified only as Maria Francesca, was born on October 14 and died in the early hours of December 26.

“The mother tried to breastfeed her at 5:00 am and the little girl was cold. She was dead,” said Marie-Helene Brelaud, a member of the ASEFRR association, which supports Roma families in the region.

Maria Francesca was rushed to hospital in nearby Corbeil-Essonnes, where she was pronounced dead from sudden infant death syndrome.

The family asked a burial firm in Corbeil-Essonnes to request permission from the authorities to lay the infant to rest but, according to the firm’s manager Julien Guenzi, the mayor refused “without explanation”.

“He doesn’t have to justify himself, but responses like that are very rare,” Guenzi told AFP.

Leclerc told AFP: “There was a choice between Corbeil and Champlan. I agreed on Wednesday morning to either scenario. I have a text message proving this.”

– ‘A question of humanity’ –

The mayor of Wissous, a few kilometres away, has since offered to host the burial, telling AFP it was a “a question of humanity”.

“The pain of a mother who carried a child for nine months, and lost her after two and a half months must not be worsened,” mayor Richard Trinquier told AFP.

ASEFRR said it would cover the costs of the funeral, expected on Monday. The family has already paid for a coffin.

The child’s parents are Romanian natives in their mid-30s who have lived in France for at least eight years, according to supporters.

They have two boys, aged five and nine, who are attending school in Champlan.

The family lives on the outskirts of Champlan in a makeshift settlement without electricity or running water, near a factory and very close to Paris’s Orly Airport.

Most of France’s roughly 20,000 Roma have little or no access to basic amenities.

Successive governments have drawn fire for demolishing numerous camps and evicting families with children, although some in France have cheered the tough approach.