Over the past few days, some sixty members of the Roma minority have attempted to travel to Great Britain, just to be turned back at the Czech-German border. Whilst they all had return tickets and the necessary insurance, German border officials said that many failed to prove they had enough money for their stay. In recent years several thousand Roma have applied for asylum abroad, and the Czech Republic has often been accused of not doing enough to support its Roma minority. Giving reasons such as fear for their safety and discrimination, many Roma have attempted to live elsewhere. With the developments of the last few days, can Britain expect to see a new wave of Czech Roma asylum applicants? And to what extent are their attempts to seek asylum justified? Dita Asiedu spoke to the Director of the office of the Council for Roma Community Affairs and started off by asking him what he thought to have been the reasons behind the recent trips to Britain:
"There are certainly smaller parts of these groups who opt for migrations for reasons of utterly hopeless situations that they are in, who have serious troubles with housing, who are at the verge of losing their flats because they accumulated debts for rent, for energy supplies, gas, and electricity and very often they are in debt to the usurers and that is something where the state must intervene and help these people and we have submitted to the government a proposition of certain measures which may help these people not to be in such hopeless situations. But this is a small part of those who seek asylum in Britain. The majority of people who go to Britain to ask for asylum are actually from better off circles of the Roma community and the reason is very clearly the calculation with the collecting of benefits in Britain and at the same time collecting them at home and in this way to accumulate a substantial amount of money because they know very well that their chances to receive asylum in Britain is basically non-existent - 99.9 percent of asylum seekers are turned back by the British but it may take a few months and sometimes even years. This is something we have to tackle, which is impossible to tolerate any more."
And that brings us to an argument some use, which is that although the chances of being granted asylum in Great Britain are very low, they still attempt at it and the reason they give is because they are being discriminated against here.
"Of course there is widespread discrimination of Roma in this country but a different thing is to ask for asylum because you may ask for asylum not because you are discriminated but because the state is prosecuting you for your religious belief, ethnic background or otherwise, or fails to protect you against racial attacks. I don't think that any of these two things are happening."
Now you mentioned utterly hopeless situations earlier - that is something that has been going on for several years. Do you think that the situation has at least somewhat improved?
"No. Certainly not. Because the housing market is deadlocked in the Czech republic and the owners of the housing estates are more sever in their demands that people should pay rent, that people should pay their bills and unfortunately many members of the Roma community are unable to do so. So we are witnessing a lot of evictions of so-called non-payers of rent and there is very little that can be done in the short-term because it means that these people need some low-cost housing, which is not available. I think the only approach might be extensive social work, known in the west as street work, which may provide individual help for these people."
You actually said that there is widespread discrimination. Would you say that it's because it is not just the average non-Roma Czech but because it's on a larger, wider scale - what I'm getting at is that the last few days have seen quite an extensive media coverage of the Roma community's travels. They have had TV crews following the Roma during their travels, asking them what they plan to do in Great Britain, why they are going, whether they plan to apply for asylum. To some extent, that too is not really right, is it?
"It is a hot topic in the media because the threat of the British imposing the visa policy affects all citizens of the Czech Republic. There are about 600.000 people traveling back and forth between Britain and the Czech Republic and there is a strong will on the Czech and British sides not to resort to visa policies. It's the people who excercise this asylum tourism who are effectively harming our relationship with Great Britain and the media, of course, are following that."