Dover, United Kingdom
03 April 1999
The white cliffs of Dover have traditionally been a welcome sight for travellers, a symbol of arrival in the United Kingdom. In 1997, the town over which they preside became the focus of the massive media attention surrounding the arrival of the first Romani asylum seekers from the Czech and Slovak Republics; subsequent arrivals have also been covered extensively. According to Lucie Roberts (see her article in Roma Rights, Winter 1998), in October 1997 over 100 articles appeared during one week, warning the British public of the "Gypsy invasion" that was about to overrun the country.
Under current British asylum law, applicants are required to "apply forthwith upon arrival in the United Kingdom". Legislation enacted in 1996 denies welfare benefits to asylum seekers who do not apply immediately on arrival, with the result that all asylum seekers arriving at the port of Dover are virtually obliged to make their asylum applications in Dover itself. Moreover, it is the responsibility of the district where the application is lodged to provide housing and social support for asylum applicants until they receive a final decision. Asylum seekers arriving in Dover are often concentrated in the relatively small area of jurisdiction of Dover District Council. The high proportion of Romani asylum seekers in the small towns of the area gives the impression of a far higher total number of asylum seekers.
This has led to a rise in anti-Roma sentiment in the town. The local paper The Dover Express published a series of articles, including an editorial referring to the asylum seekers as "human sewage". A local shop worker accused the Roma of running brothels and residents got up a petition against one Romani woman who they claimed was a prostitute. Between November 1997 and January 1999 the British right-wing organisation National Front staged three marches in the town to protest at the presence of asylum seekers.
(ERRC, Dover Residents Against Racism)