Czech Roma discriminated by UK authorities, say Law Lords

In 2001 the UK authorities introduced controversial controls at Prague's Ruzyne Airport of passengers traveling to Great Britain. Six Roma people, who were prevented from entering Great Britain, complained to British courts. Last week the highest appeal court in the UK, the Law Lords, ruled that the government's immigration rules racially discriminated against Czech Roma passengers.

Photo: CTKPhoto: CTK In October 2002 the UK High Court rejected a case taken by the European Roma Rights Centre and Liberty in Great Britain, saying the controls were "no more or no less objectionable than a visa system".

Then the case went to the Court of Appeal, which said the practice almost inevitably discriminated against Roma. But, it said, this was justified because they were more likely to seek asylum than non Roma people.

The Law Lords last week took a different view, saying the controls were in fact discrimination, and contravened the British Race Relations Act of 1976.

Valeriu Nicolae from the European Roma Information Office in Brussels says that even though it took a long time, the decision is widely welcome among Roma civic organizations.

"It took quite a long time. Right now it's been over two yeas, and it has been rejected a few times before it got to the House of Lords. I think it's a very important decision and it proves the point we and many other organizations made that racism was to be found at the core of the British government."

According to Czech Radio's reporter in the United Kingdom, Milan Kocourek, the Law Lords decision is not going to have any further consequences for Czech passengers traveling to the UK. That's because Czechs are now entitled to free movement across Europe anyway.

"The Home Office spokesman said that the Czechs were short term respond at the time, at the moment there were no similar operations now running and the Home Office would decide whether now new guidance was needed to be issued. The spokesman also said that it was no intention by the British immigration authorities to be discriminatory in any way against Roma, they kept emphasizing that it is the case which is in the past 2001, now the Czech Republic is a member of the European Union, therefore similar case cannot possibly arise."

But similar cases in legal terms can still arise in the Czech Republic itself where the Roma population is not quite satisfied with the way they are treated.

"For instance Liberty Group also says that they keep getting complains from the Czech Republic by Roma people about police harassment etc. In other words similar cases could be - I suppose - raised in the Czech Republic itself where the case originally started. They were the people who were complaining from the Czech Republic of course."

On the other hand, Valeriu Nicolae says that there are some reasons to be optimistic regarding minority rights in the Czech Republic.

"Fortunately - I think - the Czech government lately took some good measures to address the situation of Roma, and I'm quite happy with the appointment of the new commissioner on Employment and Social Affairs which is Mr. Spidla, also considering the fact that Spidla nominated in his cabinet an expert on Roma Jan Jarab. So I think there is positive development coming from the Czech Republic right now."