WISSOUS, France — Maria Francesca spent her short life living in a ramshackle camp on the edges of Paris-Orly airport. After the Roma infant girl died, only 2 months old, quarrels erupted over the tiny plot of land needed for her burial that have prompted an anti-discrimination investigation.
The mayor of the town Champlan, where the Roma camp is located, is accused of refusing to allow the baby to be buried there and saying the town needs to prioritize taxpayers in the already crowded cemetery.
The girl, who died of sudden infant death syndrome on Dec. 26, was instead laid to rest Monday in neighbouring Wissous, after the mayor there stepped in and agreed to accept the family.
France’s human rights ombudsman, Jacques Toubon, has said he will investigate the case that has called attention to discrimination against France’s estimated 20,000 Roma, also known as Gypsies. Most live in makeshift camps with few basic amenities.
The mayor of Champlan later said it was never his intention to turn the family away and has attributed the events to a “chain of misunderstandings.” He was on vacation when the family’s request for burial was refused.
Wissous Mayor Richard Trinquier said he believes that explanation and doesn’t think the events were due to discrimination, but said he doesn’t have “the same attitude of rejection.”
“I consider them people who have been failed by our society. We must take into account their problems,” Trinquier said of the Roma.
On Monday, after a funeral cortege headed by a Mercedes-Benz hearse, Maria Francesca was buried about 7 kilometres (4 miles) from the campsite, in a grave that overlooks the Orly runway. For a few moments, her mother’s moans drowned out the sound of jet engines from across the road.
“How could France act this way toward someone, as happened in this cemetery, in this town?” President Francois Hollande said, unprompted, in an interview with France Inter.
It is not the first time Hollande has been drawn into a controversy involving treatment of the Roma. In 2013, a teen Roma girl was pulled off the bus during a school trip and deported along with her family, prompting criticism of the government.