Letter to the Home Secretary of the United Kingdom

05 January 1999

On October 8, 1998, the ERRC sent the following letter to Mr Jack Straw MP, Home Secretary of the United Kingdom (for background, please see "Roma, asylum and the visa war" in the Snapshots section of this issue).

Dear Mr Jack Straw

The European Roma Rights Center (ERRC), an international public interest law organisation which monitors the human rights situation of Roma in Europe, is writing to express its concern at your decision to reintroduce a visa requirement for citizens of the Slovak Republic. We consider this to be a discriminatory act against Romani asylum seekers from the Slovak Republic.

Reintroducing visa regulations could be seen as a reaction to the lack of progress in democracy made by the Slovak Republic. However, the poor economic performance of the Slovak Republic is not a new issue and so your decision to reintroduce visa regulations for Slovak citizens now must be viewed as a reaction to the Roma asylum seekers who have recently been arriving in the UK.

It is all the more unfortunate that your decision to reintroduce the visa requirement comes now, only days after an election in which the Slovak people demonstrated its will to resume democratic change in Slovakia.

The ERRC is also particularly concerned that your government's action has been prompted by the negative depiction of the Roma in the British press. The latter has systematically evoked negative stereotypes of Roma which prevail in their own countries and has branded all of the asylum seekers as economic migrants seeking to abuse the asylum system.

Roma living in Slovakia are victims of discrimination and human rights abuses and the authorities have systematically failed to guarantee their rights and to provide remedy in cases when their rights have been violated. Hate speech against Roma is common, often coming from prominent Slovak politicians. Skinheads' assaults on Roma have not been investigated properly and impartially. Where prosecution occurs, there is a trend to deny the racial animus of the crimes.

The ERRC expects that the reintroduction of visa regulations for citizens of the Slovak Republic will have the discriminatory effect of excluding Roma applicants, while non-Roma Slovaks will be able to obtain visas.

We urge you to revoke the decision to reintroduce visas and to take steps to improve the treatment of Romani asylum seekers. The ERRC welcomes the pressure being placed on the Slovak government to improve their record vis-á-vis its Romani citizens and hopes that the British government will realise that many Romani asylum seekers from the Slovak Republic are indeed fleeing the kind of systematic discrimination that in a number of cases amounts to persecution.

By the time of printing, the ERRC had received no response.


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