Slovak Romani Family Receives Asylum in Belgium

29 October 2003

In a decision issued on March 18, 2003, the General Commissioner for Refugees in Belgium granted asylum to the family of Ms Anastazia Balážová, a Romani woman who was beaten to death by skinheads in Žilina, Slovakia, in August 2000. In the early morning hours of August 20, 2000, four skinheads broke into the home of Mr František Baláž and attacked his children with baseball bats. When Ms Balážová tried to protect her daughter, she was beaten unconscious and died three days later from a cerebral hemorrhage (background information is available at: Romani woman in Slovakia dies after beating). Although the first instance court had refused to recognise racial motivation, the perpetrators, Peter Bandur, Pavel Hrčka, Pavol Kozák and Marian Skaličan, all in their twenties, were ultimately convicted of racially motivated bodily harm and given sentences ranging from three to seven years.

Following Ms Balážová's death, her husband and children were verbally abused and sometimes physically attacked by townspeople in Žilina, apparently blaming the family for the bad publicity Slovakia had received following the vicious murder. In April 2002, while on his way to Budapest to meet with his legal representatives (including members of the ERRC), František Baláž was assaulted by three skinheads at the train station in Žilina. The family subsequently fled to Belgium where, assisted by the non-governmental organisation Belgian League for Human Rights, they applied for asylum in accordance with the 1951 Convention relating to the Status of Refugees.

In a letter to the General Commissioner urging the granting of refugee status to the Baláž family, the ERRC cited several incidents of skinhead violence in Slovakia and noted that the publicity attendant to the case had made the Baláž family a target of skinheads throughout the country. In its 2000 and 2001 accession reports, the European Commission identified "violence, notably at the hands of 'skinheads'", as a continued serious threat to Roma in Slovakia.

The ERRC welcomes the decision as an important affirmation that European asylum systems are still, in some instances, capable of providing protection to refugees, despite intense pressure to contract the asylum right to the point of meaninglessness. "The General Commissioner's decision indicates that Belgium's commitments under international law to protect refugees take priority over political considerations," said attorney Alexis Deswaef, who argued the Baláž's case to the General Commissioner. The Belgian Home Office did not appeal the decision.



Challenge discrimination, promote equality


Receive our public announcements Receive our Roma Rights Journal


The latest Roma Rights news and content online

join us

Find out how you can join or support our activities