Helsinki Committee monitors British airport checks

Controversy over British immigration controls at Prague's international airport rages on, as the Czech Roma community along with several human rights organisations say that Roma citizens are being singled out and, after severe questioning, refused entry into the U.K. Over 100 people - the great majority of them Roma - have been turned away since British officials were first stationed at the airport two weeks ago. Dita Asiedu has more:

Amnesty International
On Tuesday, Foreign Minister Jan Kavan met with representatives of several Roma groups to discuss the claim that the new procedures are discriminatory. While Mr. Kavan did not comment on the discussions, he did tell reporters that he would take up the issue in Parliament in the near future. In recent days, the Foreign Minister has defended the British claim that the controls do not discriminate. That, however, is not the opinion of many international human rights organisations such as Amnesty International, which has issued a press release saying that Romanies do face genuine persecution in the Czech Republic and therefore deserve greater respect when they apply for asylum abroad. Ivan Fischer is an Amnesty International representative and researcher, specialising in Central European affairs:

"Amnesty International has published a press release yesterday expressing concern with the British government's move to block asylum claims by Czech Roma, by apparently racially discriminating airport checks. Amnesty International has received independent reports which suggest that British immigration officials based at Prague's airport are singling out travellers from the country's Roma community because of concerns that they may claim political asylum once they reach the UK. This we believe is really dishonouring the spirit of the 1951 Refugee Convention which should ensure to all asylum seekers their hearings, their claims. We have protested very strongly with UK authorities."

The Czech Helsinki Committee has gone a step further and, as of Wednesday, has representatives monitoring the procedures at the airport. The move was approved by Mr. Kavan and the British authorities. Mr. Fischer comments that the Czech government should also be doing more:

"I am very happy to hear that the Helsinki Committee intends to monitor the procedure at the airport, but monitoring has already taken place and has been conducted in the last ten days by Romany groups. And that is what our concern so far is based on. I'm not sure what the monitoring procedure can accomplish in the Czech Republic other than to increase the pressure on the Czech authorities to discontinue with the agreement that has made this procedure possible."

The Czech Helsinki Committee initiative has also received praise from the Czech President, Vaclav Havel. According to his spokesman, Martin Krafl, President Havel did not directly oppose the immigration controls but noted that human rights and the protection of private data must be respected. If that were not the case, the controls would no longer be acceptable.