A 71-year-old priest may not be a typical political hellraiser but Father Arthur Hervet has been one of Nicolas Sarkozy’s strongest critics over his Roma policy.
He caused uproar last week when he said he hoped the French head of state suffers a heart attack.
The priest later clarified his position saying: “This president doesn’t know the reality on the ground. He’s decided a certain number of thing without even getting to know the Roma. I said a little clumsily that I would like him to have a heart attack but he needs to show some feeling for these people.”
Father Arthur visited a Roma camp in the suburbs of Lille in northern France to see the conditions for himself.
He asked them about a French government-scheme that would pay them 3,600 euros if they set up a business at home.
“Maybe some people will accept that but there will be people who won’t accept it because over there in Romania we could live one month or two with that amount,” said one man. “Then what? We’ve no shelter, nothing.”
Many of these people have been left with nowhere to go after police moved in to destroy their makeshift camp.
Some of those affected have found shelter in a former Catholic school but they still face an uncertain future.