A French mayor has been accused of being racist and inhumane after a two-month-old Roma baby who died at Christmas was refused permission to be buried at a local cemetery.
Christian Leclerc – mayor of Champlan, near Orly airport in Paris – reportedly said there were not enough places in the cemetery and that priority should be given to “those who pay their local taxes” .
The right-wing mayor’s decision prompted an outpouring of opprobrium from politicians, officials and support groups who accused him of racism and xenophobia.
The infant, named Maria Francesca and born on October 14, 2014, is believed to have died on the night between Christmas Day and December 26. His mother reportedly raised the alarm after discovering the child’s body was cold and lifeless when she went to breastfeed him at 5am.
After doctors confirmed the death, the parents asked the funeral directors to request permission to bury the baby in Champlan Cemetery, which was refused. Maria Francesca was finally buried on December 31 in a church in Wissous about 7 km away. Richard Trinquier, the mayor of Wissous, who represents the centre-right opposition UMP party, said he authorized the burial out of “human concern”.
“We couldn’t let the situation continue. Here is a mother who carried a baby for nine months and lost it at two and a half months; we are not here to make his pain worse,” he told BFMTV.
He called incomprehensible the refusal of Leclerc, who represents the Divers Droite (DVD) party – a grouping of centre-right politicians not affiliated with an official party.
Loïc Gandais, president of the local association for the support of Roma and Romanians (ASEFRR) said that the family of Maria Francesca, who had been living in a camp in Champlan without electricity, water or garbage collection for more than eight years, was a victim of “racism, xenophobia and stigma”. ”.
His organization, he said, would pay all funeral expenses and called Leclerc’s refusal “morally wrong…but difficult to challenge legally.”
According to French law, the family of a deceased person must request permission to bury them from the mayor of the cemetery of their choice. A person may be buried where they live, where they died, or where there is a family grave. In other cases, the mayor can refuse permission.
Activists said the parents requested that the child be buried at Champlan as it was near their camp and where their other children, two boys aged five and nine, went to school.
Jacques Toubon, official defender of the rights of France, constitutional mediator in charge of defending the rights of citizens – and in particular of children – declared on the radio France Inter: “On the human level, I am deeply disturbed, amazed by this act .
Other politicians also expressed outrage at Leclerc’s action.
Laurence Rossignol, Secretary of State for the Family, tweeted: “Losing a baby is universal grief. To be denied a grave is an inhuman humiliation.”
Leclerc, who French media said declined to comment, spoke out for the first time on Sunday since the row sparked greater outrage to say his previous remarks to Le Parisien newspaper – namely that the priority for places in the cemetery should be given to residents who paid their taxes – had been taken out of context by the journalist.
He told AFP he was on vacation at the time the burial request was made by the funeral directors, but was contacted by a female staff member of the town hall who forwarded the request and to whom he blamed the so-called misunderstanding.
The row erupted when another Roma baby, a three-month-old girl, died in the arms of her mother who was begging at Lille train station on January 1. The prefect of the commune ordered the opening of a judicial investigation into the death of the child.
“According to the first information we have, the baby was in the arms of his mother while she was begging,” he said in a statement.
He added that the family had recently arrived in the Lille area and had two other children aged three and five. According to the local newspaper, the baby showed no signs of hypothermia.