Roma (gypsy) refugees flee persecution

Tom Boland (
Sun, 7 Dec 1997 10:52:46 -0800 (PST)

FWD "Czech, Slovak gypsies say fleeing real persecution" 12-17-97

London -- Czech and Slovak gypsies are seeking asylum in Britain to
escape injustice, and not to exploit the British welfare system, leaders
of their communities said on Monday.

They said that back home, thousands of Czech gypsy children were
being placed in special schools for racial reasons, jobs were
persistently refused to their parents and local authorities were
refusing to rehouse families made homeless by flooding.

Emil Scuka and Janko Kompus, chairmen of the Czech and Slovak
Roma (gypsy) Civic Initiative Parties, were speaking at a news
conference in Britain's House of Commons after meeting some of the
800 gypsies currently seeking political asylum in Britain.

They attacked British media reports suggesting that the flood of
would-be immigrants, mostly living temporarily in the port town of
Dover, had been caused by a film on Czech television suggesting that
welfare payments were attractive in Britain.

``We have come to express our disagreement with the notion that the
Roma who are in Britain are economic migrants. We cannot possibly
be satisfied with this interpretation,'' Scuka said.

Both men said there were many examples in both their countries of
racially motivated violence by skinhead gangs against Roma people,
with 18 murders in the Czech Republic since 1991.

David Chirico, Czech correspondent of the European Roma Rights
Centre, said at least half of all gypsy children in the country were sent
to special schools, while gypsy unemployment was running at 70-90 percent.

He said despite constant attacks on Roma people, few cases of assault
ever came to court.

``There is institutionalised discrimination in the Czech Republic, but the
British media is saying people are leaving for economic reasons,'' he said.

Jeremy Corbyn, a left-wing Labour MP who is critical of the
government's reluctance to grant political asylum to Czech and Slovak
gypsies, told the news conference: ``The media are whipping up the
most disgusting hysteria about people who are fleeing from oppression.''

He said some of those involved were the descendants of gypsies who
had escaped the Nazi Holocaust in which Roma suffered alongside Jews.

The local council in Dover has protested at the expense of caring for the
recent influx of gypsies while their asylum applications are considered.

Czech and Slovak gypsies have also fled in the past to Belgium,
Holland, Germany, Canada and Australia.