CSA stop Roma flying to Ireland: Czechs absent at Auschwitz Roma ceremony


It's been another unhappy few days for relations with the Czech Republic's Roma minority. Roma groups are already angry over the introduction of British immigration controls at Prague's Ruzyne Airport, but on Friday news emerged that the country's national carrier - Czech Airlines (CSA) - had prevented a group of Roma from boarding a flight to Ireland. And then on Saturday, reports from Poland said the Czech Republic had snubbed a ceremony at the former Auschwitz concentration camp, to remember the thousands of Roma who perished there. Rob Cameron has more.

These latest incidents have only served to exacerbate an already tense relationship between the Roma minority and the Czech authorities. They began on Friday, when Czech Airlines officials intercepted several Roma families attempting to fly to Dublin, and after questioning them refused to let them on board, saying they did not have enough money to support themselves. Czech Airlines says the decision was taken with the co-operation of the Irish embassy: but the Irish chargé d'affaires James O'Connell was quoted as saying there is no such agreement. The Czech Airlines spokesman is on holiday today, and as Monday is a national holiday in Ireland there was no-one available for comment at the Irish Embassy.

In Poland meanwhile, Czech officials were conspicuous by their absence at the former Auschwitz concentration camp, during a ceremony to remember the thousands of Roma who perished in the Holocaust. The news that there were no Czech officials present at Thursday's ceremony didn't hit the papers until Saturday, but Czech representatives have been busy since then both apologising and trying to blame each other for the faux pas: the Czech cabinet says it never received an invitation; the Czech embassy in Warsaw says it did, but probably lost it. Red faces all round.

Back in Prague, and a demonstration was held on Monday morning outside the British embassy to protest against the strict immigration controls in place at Prague Airport. The demonstration was organised by a group called Europa Roma, but unfortunately just seven people turned up. None of them were Roma. There were, however, around 25 journalists, and my colleague Nick Carey was among them. He spoke to one of the seven demonstrators, Thomas Franke.

"I wanted to support the Romanies in their struggle for equality."

But where are the Romanies today? That's the question everyone's asking.

"I don't have any idea, but I think it has been a European-wide call, and so none of the local Romanies got involved so far. I don't know whether anybody's going to come."

What impact do you think this is going to have, since the Roma haven't turned up?

"Close to nil, but I think it's just because it hasn't been organised by people here in the Czech Republic. It's been called from abroad, and it's been very low key in the media, up to today, and I think the overwhelming majority has not even heard of it."

So a lacklustre turnout at Monday's demonstration outside the British embassy in Prague. There were also demonstrations planned today in Bratislava, Bucharest, London and Warsaw: so far there are no reports of how many people attended them.