ERRC Reaction to the Finnish Government's Imposition of Visas on Slovak Citizens


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Date: Fri, 9 Jul 1999 11:35:28 +0300 (EET DST)
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Subject: ERRC Reaction to the Finnish Government's Imposition of Visas on Slovak Citizens

From: MINELRES moderator <minelres@mailbox.riga.lv>

Original sender: Tatjana Peric <tatjana@errc.org>

ERRC Reaction to the Finnish Government's Imposition of Visas
on Slovak Citizens

 
Ms Tarja Halonen     
Minister for Foreign Affairs
Ministry of Foreign Affairs
PO Box 176
FIN-00161 Helsinki
Finland
Fax: 00 358 9 1341 5309
 
July 6, 1999
 
Dear Madame Minister:
 
The European Roma Rights Center (ERRC),an international public
interest law organisation which monitors the human rights situation of
Roma in Europe and provides legal defence to victims of abuse, is
writing to express its concern at your decision to reintroduce a visa
requirement for citizens of the Slovak Republic.

Coming just as hundreds of Romani asylum seekers have reportedly
arrived in Finland, the reintroduction of visas for Slovak citizens
seems targeted at Roma and motivated by discriminatory intent. We
further anticipate that the effect of the new visa regulations will be
equally discriminatory - Romani applicants will be refused visas in
disproportionate numbers.
 
Roma living in Slovakia routinely suffer racial and ethnic
discrimination and violence. The authorities have repeatedly failed to
guarantee the rights of Roma to physical security and equality, and to
provide remedy in cases of where their rights have been violated. Hate
speech against Roma is common. Romani children are often sent to
racially segregated schools. Racially-motivated attacks on Roma by
skinheads and others are often not investigated properly and
impartially. Where prosecution occurs, the authorities frequently
overlook or deny the racial animus of crimes. Indeed, a Slovak court
recently ruled that racially motivated crime against Roma by ethnic
Slovaks is impossible, since they belong to the same race. Despite the
change of government last autumn, Romani issues continue to be treated
as social problems and not as what they often are - questions of
racial discrimination and fundamental human rights.
 
The ERRC is particularly troubled that the Finnish Government,
traditionally a strong advocate for Roma rights, has apparently
succumbed to the widespread racial stereotypes and anti-Roma sentiment
prevalent in much of Europe. The ERRC is concerned that reintroduction
of visas by the Finnish Government will serve as a dangerous precedent
for other countries and will intensify anti-Roma sentiment within
Slovakia. In short, it will only worsen the already precarious plight
of Roma in Slovakia.
 
The ERRC urges the Finnish Government to revoke the visa requirement
for Slovak citizens forthwith and to instead devote its efforts to
encouraging the Slovak Government to improve the human rights
situation of Roma. The ERRC further urges the Government to consider
claims for political asylum coming from Slovak Roma in accordance with
its obligations under the 1951 Convention on the Status of Refugees.
The ERRC firmly believes that many Roma from Slovakia may be able to
claim persecution on the basis of their ethnicity. In such cases
persecution would be the cumulative result of racial discrimination
and harassment. For many Roma in Slovakia systematic racial
mistreatment begins in early childhood and is a fact in practically
all areas of life. The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees
expressed a similar attitude, concluding in the 1998 Guidelines
Relating to the Eligibility of Slovak Roma Asylum Seekers that "it is
clear that Slovak Roma may well be able to substantiate refugee claims
based on severe discrimination on ethnic grounds".

Yours sincerely,
 
Dimitrina Petrova
Executive Director

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