CHAMPLAN, France (AFP) - French officials expressed shock and disgust Sunday after the mayor of a Paris suburb refused to allow the two-and-a-half month old baby of a Roma family to be buried in the municipal cemetery.
Christian Leclerc, the conservative mayor of Champlan, about 23 kilometres south of Paris, reportedly explained his refusal on the grounds that the cemetery has "few available plots".
"Priority is given to those who pay their local taxes," Leclerc was quoted by Le Parisien daily on Saturday as saying. He has not since been available for comment.
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".
"It is clear there is a legal question in this case," he told France Inter radio, adding he could "maybe take action" against any perceived discrimination.
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.
- 'Racism, xenophobia and stigmatisation' -
Loic Gandais, president of ASEFRR, said it was "racism, xenophobia, and stigmatisation" and accused Leclerc of hiding behind the fact that the baby was pronounced dead in another town.
Maria Francesca is now expected to be buried on Monday in the town of Wissous, a few kilometres away.
Explaining his offer to host the burial, the conservative mayor of Wissous, Richard Trinquier, told AFP it was "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." ASEFRR said it would cover the funeral costs. 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.
In August, a French court fined a member of parliament 3,000 euros (S$4794) for saying that Nazi dictator Adolf Hitler "maybe did not kill enough" Roma.
The Roma, a nomadic people whose ancestors left India centuries ago, have long suffered from discrimination and are frequently accused of carrying out petty crimes.
The European Union believes there are currently 10 to 12 million Roma throughout Europe, which makes them the largest minority on the continent.
In many countries, they face discrimination, extreme poverty and unequal access to health care and education.