Roma continue to flee from eastern Europe
05 September 1999
Roma continue to flee other countries of eastern Europe besides Kosovo, and western European authorities continue to return them to eastern Europe, although in many instances Roma are seeking protection from racist violence in their country of origin. The international media reported in late June that hundreds of Roma were fleeing Slovakia and requesting asylum in Finland. The ERRC sent a letter to Interior Minister of Finland Mr Kari Häkämies on June 30 to urge Finnish authorities to consider claims for asylum by Slovak Roma in accordance with Finland's obligations under the 1951 Convention on the Status of Refugees and to urge Finnish authorities not to impose a visa regime on Slovak citizens. On July 5, Finnish authorities imposed a visa regime on Slovak citizens; on July 6 the ERRC wrote to Ms Tarja Halonen, Foreign Minister of Finland (see the "Advocacy" section of this issue). On August 23, 1999, Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty (RFE/RL) reported that Finnish authorities had processed and rejected 300 applications for asylum filed by Slovak Roma who had arrived in Finland in late June. The Czech news agency ČTK quoted a Finnish official as saying the Immigration Office was likely to process all the 1200 or so applications by late October or early November. According to a lawyer for some of the Romani refugees, Finnish authorities intend to return some of the Roma to the Czech Republic, regarding it as a safe country for Roma and as the place where the Slovak Roma should have applied for asylum. The Czech Republic has one of the highest rates of racially motivated killing of Roma since 1989 in a country not in the throes of a civil war. A number of courts in western Europe have ruled that the Czech Republic does not have an adequate asylum procedure. Therefore it should not be regarded as a "safe third country".
Radio Prague reported on August 15, 1999, that a group of twenty Czech Roma, eleven of whom were children, had been detained at the Czech-German border by German customs officials early in the morning of August 14 while on their way to England by bus. The customs officers ordered the group off the bus and then refused them entrance to Germany on the grounds that they did not have the minimum of one hundred German marks per person per day required by German authorities for permission to enter Germany.
On July 31, 1999, a Swiss police spokesperson reported that 85 Slovak Roma had been sent back to Slovakia the previous week. The spokesperson said that the Roma arrived at Zurich airport on three flights. According to the Reuters news service, he also said that none of the Roma had asked for political asylum. On July 30, a spokesperson for the Czech national carrier, Czech Airlines, warned Slovak Roma not to travel to Switzerland in search of political asylum there. The spokesperson said that those doing so would waste the money they paid for the air tickets and face "other difficulties", the ČTK wire service reported.
The Czech daily Mladá Fronta Dnes (MFD) reported on July 28, 1999, that in the first six months of this year there have been more Roma from the Czech Republic - 588 persons in total - asking for political asylum in the UK than in the whole of last year, when the figure totalled 512. In the month of June alone there were reportedly 143 new asylum seekers. On August 11, MFD reported that a spokesperson for the British embassy in Prague had warned that Britain might impose a visa regime on Czech citizens if Roma persisted in fleeing the Czech Republic and coming to Britain. MFD reported that the warning had been reiterated by Lord Bassum, a senior official in the British Home Office, on August 21.
ČTK reported on July 28 that Norway had introduced visas for Slovak citizens for four months starting on July 26 after around seventy Roma from Slovakia requested asylum there. According to the ČTK press service, eleven Slovak Roma attempted to apply for asylum in Austria on July 23, 1999. Austrian authorities reportedly told the applicants that they had no chance of being granted asylum in Austria and the Roma subsequently withdrew their applications. The police drove them to the Slovak-Austrian border where they crossed back into Slovakia. On July 22, the ERRC was informed by a Dutch activist working with asylum seekers that a group of 41 Roma from the Slovak town of Levoča had been sent back to Slovakia from Holland by bus after their asylum procedures had been negatively concluded.
The issue of recent Romani flight has prompted the Czech and Slovak press to speak of "ethnotourism", implying that shady domestic and international agents allegedly provoke the flight of Roma abroad in order to tarnish the reputations of the Czech Republic and, especially, Slovakia. In a front page article the Slovak nationalist daily Slovenska Republika suggested on August 19 that the European Roma Rights Center was responsible for organising "ethnotourism". Several ERRC board members were mentioned by name in the article. The Czech and Slovak press has rarely reported positive asylum decisions concerning Czech and Slovak Roma in western European and North-American countries.
Roma also have recently fled other countries in the region. The Hungarian wire service MTI reported that Austrian authorities had deported forty Romanian Roma who had entered Austria illegally, after they were discovered in the province of Styria on Friday, July 23. Mr Paul Haberl, spokesperson for the Graz prefecture, stated that the group had entered Austria through the Czech Republic. The press reported that Mr Haberl said that Austrian authorities had initially attempted to return the group to the Czech Republic, implying that Austria was implementing Dublin Convention rules for asylum seekers and arousing the suspicion that the group may have attempted to apply for asylum in Austria, but had been denied access to an asylum procedure by Austrian authorities. However, according to MTI, Czech authorities refused to admit them. Austrian authorities subsequently expelled forty persons from the group to Hungary, with train tickets to Romania.
(ERRC, RFE/RL, Slovenska Republika)