ERRC Press Release

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Date: Thu, 23 Oct 1997 10:38:36 -0700
Subject: ERRC Press Release

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ERRC Press Release

European Roma Rights Center Press Release on Events in Great Britain
October 22, 1997
The European Roma Rights Center (ERRC) is an international public 
interest law organisation which monitors the human rights situation of
Roma and provides legal defence in cases of human rights abuse.
In the past six months, the ERRC has received reports that groups of
Roma are arriving in English ports and applying for asylum. In recent
days, Roma applying for asylum have become the focus of alarmist and
racist articles in the British media, including organs noted for their
seriousness. The ERRC is concerned that inflammatory statements in the
British press sensationalise the issue of the flight of Roma from
eastern Europe, especially the Czech Republic and Slovakia, and portray
this summer's movements of Roma from eastern Europe to Canada, Ireland
and the United Kingdom as purely an instance of "economic migration", or
worse, describe Romani refugees as schemers attempting to exploit the
British public. Usually serious newspapers such as The Guardian and The
Independent have played with racist stereotypes by publishing headlines
such as, "Gypsies Invade Dover, Hoping for a Handout", "They Speak
little English, But Know Exactly How to Play the System" and "The
Travellers Have Developed New Tactics". The ERRC is additionally
concerned about reports that Kent County Council, the district authority
in an area in which many of the refugees have arrived, has invited
officials from the Slovak embassy to Dover.
ERRC research conducted in both the Czech Republic and Slovakia reveals
that Roma have legitimate reasons to fear persecution in both countries.
Roma fall victim to racially-motivated attack in the Czech Republic. The
Czech non-governmental organisation HOST has documented 1250
racially-motivated attacks on Roma, especially attacks by racist
skinheads, in the period 1991-1997. Of these, at least nine Roma died as
a direct result of attack, and a group of skinheads also killed a
Turkish man they mistook for a Rom. These attacks have been increasing
in frequency in recent years, and as recently as September 1997, a
Romani woman died during a skinhead attack. Since Roma tend not to
report racially motivated attacks to the police, the real number of
attacks against Roma is probably  considerably higher.
State response to the alarming situation in the Czech Republic has, to
date, been inadequate. The Czech Republic has not acted promptly and
effectively to provide either protection to Roma or legal remedy when
Roma are attacked. The following tendencies are evident in the criminal
justice system: when large groups of racists attack Roma, often only a
few individuals are charged with crimes; the racially-motivated crimes
provisions are frequently not applied; the charges brought against
skinheads are often too light to reflect the true gravity of the
racially-motivated crimes provisions in the penal code are brought
against Roma, rendering doubtful the government's contention that it is
acting to combat racist violence; there is court bias when weighing the
testimony of Roma; police officers who abuse Roma are generally not
punished, and when they are punished, punishment is not adequate.
The views of skinheads are supported by a palpable racism in the wider
society. An openly anti-Roma political party claimed 8.5% in the 1994
parliamentary elections. Additionally, discrimination is evident in
almost all walks of life. Reasonable estimates put the number of Romani
children being educated in schools for the mentally disabled at well
over 50%. A recent study by the aforementioned HOST documented
twenty-four restaurants in which Roma were explicitly refused service.
There are, additionally, widespread credible allegations of
discrimination in the criminal justice system, in such areas as: length
and likelihood of pre-trial detention, likelihood of guilty verdicts,
length of sentence, and length of time of court proceedings when hearing
cases in which Roma have been victims.
Finally, despite the fact that members of both the ruling coalition
Civil Democratic Party and the main opposition Social Democratic Party
made recent statements endorsing the de facto ghettoisation of Roma, and
these statements have not been met with strong criticism by either these
parties or by the government.
Until 1993, Slovakia and the Czech Republic were both members of one
common country, the Czech and Slovak Federal Republic. The present wave
of racism and racist violence has its roots prior to the break-up of the
Federation, and Roma presently face similar abuse in Slovakia. As
recently as August, a Romani man was beaten to death by skinheads in his
home in the central Slovak town of Banska Bystrica. In Slovakia too,
however, the state has been reticent in combating the persecution of
In Slovakia, despite similar levels of skinhead violence to those
witnessed in the Czech Republic, ERRC research revealed that when Roma
fall victim of attack, their complaints stand little chance of receiving
adequate judicial remedy. Slovak authorities tend to deny that
racially-motivated crimes have taken place; minimise the role of racism
by describing attacks as youthful pranks; charge Roma who are lodging
complaints with crimes; sentence the minimum possible number of
skinheads; and deny that episodes of community violence have taken
In mid-Summer, at least two municipalities near the town of Medzilaborce
in northeastern Slovakia passed ordinances banning Roma from settling
within town limits. The Roma affected had evidently been evicted from
housing following their dismissal from a local co-operative farm in
1990, and have been repeatedly expelled from places in which they had
attempted to settle since. Immediately following the bans, a nearby Roma
settlement burned to the ground in unclear circumstances. The
International Helsinki Federation Bratislava office has also documented
instances in which Roma were prevented from moving to cities through the
use of mandatory residence permits.
Members of the present Slovak government have used language which
tacitly or explicitly endorses the present precarious human rights
situation of Roma in the country. Prime Minister Vladimir Meciar at one
point hinted at a deluge of Romani children, stating, "If we don't deal
with them now, they will deal with us in time." More recently, in
November 1996, Minister of Labour, Social Affairs and Family Olga
Keltosova told a
public gathering in London that Roma "simply do not want to work" and
went on to imply that Roma were thieves who stole state benefits
intended for their children.
Current attempts to dismiss the flight of Roma from the Czech and Slovak
Republics as a spurious attempt to burden western asylum procedures with
false claims of persecution are therefore not substantiated by the human
rights situation of Roma in the two countries. The ERRC urges that all
Roma fleeing eastern Europe be given the right to have their claims
heard before an impartial tribunal, should they so choose. The ERRC is
concerned that British authorities may seek to exploit the lack of
clarity in European norms on asylum by returning individuals to another
country, especially by using so-called "safe third country" clauses
which require asylum-seekers to apply in the first "safe country" in
which they arrive.

The ERRC notes that present European norms do not rule out regarding the
first "safe country" for Slovak Roma as the Czech Republic.
Authorities in Canada, Ireland and the United Kingdom should not be
influenced by distorted and inflammatory press reports. They should take
into account reports by non-governmental organisations on the human
rights situation of Roma in eastern Europe and make such reports easily
available to competent border authorities and persons related to the
immigration and asylum process. Finally, illegal interference with
individuals who may have legitimate asylum claims should be strictly
sanctioned by the British authorities.
European Roma Rights Center
P.O.Box  10/24  -  1525 Budapest 114 -  Hungary    
Phone: + (36 1) 327-98-77  Fax: + (36-1) 138-37-27
Board of directors :   
Andr=E1s B=EDr=F3, Chair (Hungary)   
Nicolae Gheorghe (Romania)   
Isabel Fonseca (UK)
Deborah Harding (USA)   
Rudko Kawczynski (Germany)   
Khristo Kyuchukov (Bulgaria)
Lord Lester of Herne Hill Q.C.(UK)   
Edgar Morin (France)   
Ina Zoon (Czech Republic/Spain)

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