ERRC reaction to UK reintroducing visas for Slovak citizens
08 October 1998
The European Roma Rights Center is concerned that the October 7, 1998 decision of the British Home Office to reimpose visa requirements for Slovaks entering the United Kingdom, reflects an intent to discriminate against Roma. Following a surge in Romani asylum seekers from Slovakia in recent months, the UK's decision to reimpose visa requirements on all Slovaks will likely prevent numerous Roma legitimately fleeing racist violence and persecution from ever reaching the United Kingdom.
Since the beginning of 1998, more than 1,000 Slovak Roma have requested asylum in the United Kingdom. Many have met with hostility and prejudice on the part of British government officials. Earlier this year, Minister for Immigration Mike O'Brien asserted without foundation that the majority of asylum seekers had "bogus" claims, and publicly urged cross-Channel ferry companies to refuse passage to Roma lawfully travelling with pre-paid tickets. Large segments of the British press have only fuelled racist sentiments by referring negatively to "scrounging foreign Gypsies" who allegedly couch their purely economic motives in political rhetoric.
In fact, Roma in Slovakia are routinely subjected to acts of violence and discrimination which have been exhaustively documented by governmental and non-governmental organisations. Even as skinhead attacks have proliferated, criminal prosecutions for racially-motivated violence are rare. Hate speech has grown more common, and Roma are afforded no effective remedies for systematic discrimination in the fields of education, employment and access to public accommodations. Indeed, this spring, a British court overturned exclusion orders issued for several Slovak Romani asylum applicants, finding that "discrimination against Roma in Slovakia is rife among all sections of society."
Having lifted visa requirements for Slovaks after the 1989 Czechoslovak "Velvet Revolution," their reimposition comes perversely in the very week after elections which, for the first time in several years, offer the possibility for a Slovak government more supportive of human rights. In a letter sent today to the Home Secretary, Jack Straw, the ERRC urged the British government to reverse this decision and afford Slovak Romani asylum seekers fair treatment and individualised
consideration of their claims.