BBC NEWS Americas Africa Europe Middle East South Asia Asia Pacific Arabic Spanish Russian Chinese Welsh

 You are in: World: Europe
Front Page 
Middle East 
South Asia 
From Our Own Correspondent 
Letter From America 
UK Politics 
Talking Point 
In Depth 

Commonwealth Games 2002

BBC Sport

BBC Weather

Monday, 27 August, 2001, 10:01 GMT 11:01 UK
UK reimposes Czech asylum controls
Roma journalist, who was turned back, with non-Roma colleague
Secret film of the policy in action added to racism claims
British officials have resumed controversial immigration checks at Prague airport to crack down on asylum seekers from the Czech Republic.

The measures are being described as an attempt to prevent any potential abuse of Britain's asylum system - but critics say they target Roma, or gypsies, in a policy which amounts to racial discrimination.

Roma facts
Estimated 12m Roma worldwide
Originated in Punjab, India
Migrated west in several waves over 1,000 years
Distinguished by blood and language
500,000 killed in Holocaust
Source: Patrin
The checks were suspended a month ago after growing criticism from inside the Czech Republic, including from President Vaclav Havel.

Controversy had deepened when a Roma journalist was secretly filmed being turned away, while his non-Roma colleague - with identical travel plans - was allowed on her way.

But the British Embassy said an increase in asylum claims since the suspension had made it necessary to resume the checks at Prague's Ruzyne Airport.

The Czech authorities have agreed to the system because the alternative could be the imposition of visas for all Czechs travelling to the UK.

If that happened, it would be seen as a serious setback for Czech efforts to join the European Union, and the Czechs fear that other EU member states might follow suit.

President Havel
President Vaclav Havel was among those expressing concerns
With the checks resumed, British immigration officers are now examining the papers of all passengers travelling to any UK airport.

The BBC's Ray Furlong in Prague says the officers are, in effect, deciding who can get on a plane to London and who cannot.

Those allowed to travel are given boarding cards, allowing passengers to check in as normal for their flights. Those without cards are turned away from the check-in desks.

Many asylum applications are made by Roma - commonly known as gypsy - families.

"The first round of controls was very effective in reducing such claims for the three weeks they were in operation, and for some time afterwards," the British Embassy said in a statement.

"But recent arrivals have made it clear that it is necessary to repeat the operation in order to demonstrate that the UK is not prepared to tolerate further abuse of its asylum system."

It said the controls would be "non-discriminatory" and would apply to all passengers of whatever nationality.

Few granted asylum

Bona fide travellers to the UK were welcome and "would find the pre-clearance makes procedures on arrival in the UK much easier", the embassy added.

All passengers on flights to London - including British nationals and passengers from other European Union countries and the United States - will be subject to the checks.

Those who give unsatisfactory answers to immigration officers may be turned away.

Last year, 1,230 people arriving from the Czech Republic claimed asylum in Britain, and 515 applications had been received by the end of May this year.

The number of successful applications is "very small," a Home Office spokeswoman said.

Last week, more stringent immigration checks at Prague airport led to a number of Roma families, including one made up of more than 10 members, being turned away.

Discrimination complaints

There are estimated to be approximately 200,000 Roma gypsies in the Czech Republic - nearly 2% of the population.

Roma people often complain of discrimination and suffer frequent racially motivated attacks and high unemployment in the Czech Republic, and elsewhere in eastern Europe.

They often leave for the West, mostly Britain, in hopes of a better life.

But a Home Office spokesman said there is virtually no chance for a Czech citizen being granted asylum in the UK because the authorities do not believe they are subject to persecution by the state.

Instead, both the Czech and the UK governments see them as economic migrants.

See also:

07 Aug 01 | Europe
UK drops Prague asylum checks
30 Jul 01 | Europe
UK attacked for Czech controls
18 Jul 01 | Europe
UK gets tough on Czech immigrants
15 Mar 01 | UK Politics
UK wins tough action on immigration
26 Jul 00 | Europe
Through the eyes of a gypsy
Internet links:

The BBC is not responsible for the content of external internet sites

Links to more Europe stories are at the foot of the page.

E-mail this story to a friend

Links to more Europe stories