Commission for Roma Affairs calls for lifting of British immigration controls

Well the dispute continues to rage over the presence of British immigration officers at Prague's Ruzyne Airport, who are stationed there to try and curtail the number of Czech Roma applying for asylum in Britain. The measures have been heavily criticised; and among the critics is the Inter-ministerial Commission for Roma Community Affairs. The Commission issued a statement on Thursday calling for the controls to be removed, saying it had evidence that the measures discriminated against all Roma - and not just against those who intended to seek asylum in Britain, Rob Cameron reports. Presiding over Thursday's press conference was the government's human rights commissioner Jan Jarab, who says the recent racially-motivated murder of a Roma man only makes the immigration measures even more offensive to the Roma community:

"It aggravates the feeling of the Roma minority that they are cornered, that they are brought into a situation that has no solution. Otherwise the reaction to such an incident as this tragic murder [of Roma Ota Absolon in Svitavy two weeks ago] would be very often "let's go away from this country" and at the same time they have a measure which tells them they cannot go away from this country. So of course they might feel cornered from both sides."

Culture Minister Pavel Dostal came out openly and said the measures were discrimination. Do you think the government is united on this, or do you think he's not the only one who is against them?

"Well, I would not be as courageous as Mr Dostal to say openly "these measures are discriminatory", because I think that it is justified when the person declares "I am going to apply for asylum" not to let the person in. And the majority of those Roma who were rejected probably were, in fact, people who were aiming to ask for asylum, and so it is, in that case, probably justified. And then it couldn't be seen as racial discrimination but rather something that turns back potential asylum seekers whatever their skin colour. However, there have occurred cases - one of them was heard at the Commission and I'm afraid that it cannot really be ruled out that there more of them - in which people who seem to differ from all other travellers only in their skin colour were rejected and where they do appear to have been quite credible as tourists. And these cases are worrying."

Britain says it cannot grant asylum to Czech citizens because they're not being persecuted by the Czech state. However, Britain cannot stop them applying, but that seems to be what Britain is in fact doing.

"Oh they are definitely stopping them from applying..."

...but they're not right to do that. Surely that's against the Geneva Convention?

"This is quite problematic even from the viewpoint of asylum law. But that it is not what we would be criticising, because that would be a fully British matter. We couldn't possibly criticise the violation of [the right of] our citizens to apply for asylum, that would be absolutely schizophrenic. But what we can express our concern about is whether there isn't a racial criterion applied to regular tourists which would mean that the Czech government by tolerating that would be indirectly violating its own commitments."