British immigration controls in Prague are over, but...

President Havel in the Czech city Broumov yesterday, where he said he is glad controls have ended

British immigration controls at Prague's Ruzyne Airport were discontinued at midnight on August 9th. But discussions are still very much alive as to whether the measure was legal, whether British immigration officials had the right to decide which Czech national did and which did not have the right to travel to Britain. Olga Szantova has the story.

President Havel in the Czech city Broumov yesterday
There is general agreement on one point, summed up by President Havel:

"Of course I am very glad that these interviews to classify people intending to travel, have ended."

But the three weeks, during which British immigration officers refused 120 Czech citizens, most of them Roma, the right to fly to Britain, have left numerous questions unanswered. Human rights organizations have come out with charges of outright racism, and in its statement, the Czech Helsinki Committee voiced charges that the immigration controls could have been contrary to international agreements. It isn't clear, they say, under what jurisdiction the controls were held - whether British or Czech. And, furthermore, they are worried about the possible misuse of information gained about persons who were refused entry into Britain.

The British Embassy was not prepared to answer Radio Prague's questions today, but its spokesman has said that all data gained during the Ruzyne talks was protected under British law. But human rights activists point out that data about people who were refused permission to visit Britain would be available to British immigration and could infringe on their travel rights in the future. The Helsinki Committee points out that British immigration officers at the airport did not permit a group of Roma who declared their wish to seek asylum in Britain to board their planes. This is contrary to the United Nations Convention on refugees, which gives everybody the right to seek asylum.

The procedures at Prague airport may be over, but they will be discussed for some time. As to whether the number of asylum seekers in Britain has dropped that, too, remains to be seen, Deputy Prime Minister Pavel Rychetsky:

"It is too early to judge, The British Embassy is going to inform us regularly about the number of asylum seekers from the Czech Republic, and it will take weeks, possibly even months, to evaluate."

As President Havel pointed out, the way to end the Roma exodus appears not to lie in preventive immigration measures.

"This is a major challenge for all of us to seriously consider the situation in our country, because these are our citizens who have the tendency to emigrate and leave their homeland and that is something we really have to think about."

Author: Olga Szantová
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