Roma from Central and Eastern Europe continue to seek asylum in the West
03 April 1999
On March 7, 1999, the British weekly The Independent on Sunday reported that an adjudicator handling the appeal of a Czech Romani asylum seeker in the United Kingdom had suggested that asylum seekers used different skin colour as an "excuse" to claim persecution. The adjudicator also held that it is natural for policemen to have prejudices.
On February 18, 1999, British dailies reported that the Home Office planned to introduce legislation in the United Kingdom which would take away benefits such as food vouchers and state housing from asylum seekers who sought judicial review of their asylum application. Rachel Rees of The Refugee Council told newspapers that the proposals would mean that asylum seekers would be "starved out of pursuing their legal rights". On February 27, around 2,500 people marched through London to protest the proposed new Asylum and Immigration Bill. The marchers then gathered in Trafalgar Square, where speakers included a representative of the Roma Refugee Organisation, an organisation founded by Romani refugees in London in 1998 to defend the rights of Romani asylum seekers.
In December 1998, a test case at the British Court of Appeal concerning Slovak Romani asylum seekers was rejected, and was expected to have a precedent-setting effect. Initial decisions taken on the asylum applications of Slovak citizens in Britain in 1998 number 335; all of these were negative and in ninety cases, applications were determined to be "manifestly unfounded".
The Irish Times reported on March 3, 1999, that thirteen of the forty-seven Romanian Roma who had arrived in Ireland last summer had been granted refugee status after appealing a decision to have them deported. Initial decision in the case reached the public ear because of manifold procedural irregularities (see "Snapshots from around Europe", Roma Rights Autumn 1998). The appeals of a further seven members of the original group were refused, while the remainder were still waiting for a decision on their appeal. A total of 998 Romanian citizens sought asylum in Ireland in 1998 and non-governmental organisations state that most of these were Roma. Less than 3% of asylum decisions in Ireland in 1998 were positive and less than 1% of appeals were successful.
According to ERRC information, the vast majority of Romanian Romani asylum seekers in France had their applications turned down with unusual speed, and little chance of success at appeal. Local non-governmental organisations such as the Association for Assistance to Travellers (AŠAV) claimed to have seen form letters of rejection, suggesting a violation of the right of an individual to have her case heard individually. In 1998, 2,960 Romanian citizens sought asylum in France (see "Field Report", page 58 in this issue).
Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty reported on January 25 that the Canadian Immigration and Refugee Board (IRB) had rejected the asylum applications of two Hungarian Roma (see "Notebook", page 37 in this issue). The Romani Association of Australia reported that a Rom from Serbia who had applied for asylum in Australia had been rejected without interview. The reasons cited in the decision of the Department of Immigration include the claim that "although some instances of Serbian nationalism directed towards minority group members may still occur, as in any multi-ethnic community, there is information that Serbian nationalism has subsided in the last couple of years and the ruling political party has adopted a more conciliatory course". An appeal has been filed against the decision.
Germany continues to repatriate Bosnian refugees, including Roma, as well as to put intense pressure on them to leave voluntarily. On January 27, the anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz, the Paris-based Romani organisation Rromani Baxt wrote a letter of concern to the German Foreign Minister Josef Fischer. The letter summed up the potential situation for Romani returnees: "On Serb territory they will be persecuted as Muslims and on Muslim territory as Gypsies[...]."
A representative of the UNHCR in Hungary told the ERRC on February 25 that in the last year no refugees from Kosovo or Romania had cited Romani ethnicity in an asylum application in Hungary. In his opinion, the Roma from Romania currently in Hungary do not come under the mandate of the UNHCR, as they are migrants and not asylum seekers.