Emigration controls lifted, but is it a victory?

After three weeks of controversy and international pressure, the British Embassy decided together with the Czech government to lift the strict immigration controls at Prague's Ruzyne Airport. The mood among human rights groups, however, is far from victorious. Helen Belmont has more on their reactions.

The move to lift the British customs controls at Prague's international airport came as something of a surprise. The last few weeks have seen mounting pressure from human rights organisations and the media, but firm resistance from both the British and Czech governments, and it seemed the controls would become a more or less permanent fixture. When the announcement came on Tuesday that the controls would be lifted, it was not on the grounds that they discriminated against the Roma minority. Instead, the British Charge d'affaires in Prague, Denis Keefe, maintained that the short-term goal of reducing the number of Czech asylum seekers had been met.

The Czech Helsinki Committee was one of the human rights organisations which was most active in drawing attention to the customs controls, and was briefly allowed to monitor the interviews at the airport. I spoke with a representative from the Committee, Salma Muhisova, and asked her how much influence she believes that her organisation had in lifting the controls:

"In this situation, of course, we were from the beginning present. What we were basically doing is trying to show to everybody, especially the government, how serious that problem is and that is it connected to further problems. So, I would say that in a way we are responsible for making that problem more visible."

I also asked Ms. Muhisova whether she believed the lifting of controls could be seen as a victory for the Roma community and human rights advocates:

"I wouldn't consider it to be a victory because the Roma people couldn't go to Great Britain to seek asylum, which is what they wanted. The Czech government didn't solve that problem, because they would either change destination or try to go to Great Britain again. The British side hasn't succeeded because it hasn't been a permanent solution and it can happen again. The original problem, why we were there from the beginning, the Roma migration, has not been solved. And now is a very good opportunity to start talking about that."

Whether the customs controls were lifted as a result of alleged discrimination or whether it was simply a political decision remains unclear. Most human rights advocates would agree, however, that now is the time to move forward and continue tackling what they say is the primary cause of Roma emigration - discrimination at home.

Author: Helen Belmont
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