London community centre helping Czech Romanies in UK

Photo from 'Somewhere better' film,

In recent years thousands of Czech Romanies have left this country to seek asylum abroad, with many of them attempting to start a new life in Great Britain. Four years ago, Czech Romany Ladislav Balaz set up a Roma community centre in the London suburb of Tottenham in order to help his people communicate with the British authorities. I recently spoke to Mr Balaz, who left for the UK after a Roma friend of his was killed in the north Moravian town of Orlova, and began by asking him what services the centre provided to Romanies.

Photo from 'Somewhere better' film,
"We offer them general advice, that means we send them to solicitors, we find solicitors for them, we take people out of detention centres. We go with a translator with people anywhere, I mean at the social services, at the doctors or solicitors, in court. Here is a problem because not all English people understand who the Roma are, because they call us gypsies and that is wrong. Because Roma are the same as gypsies but they have different culture. In the Czech Republic, because we are from the Czech Republic, there is a different culture and many English people think that we're the same people like gypsies."

The British government don't give Czech Romanies asylum, they say the Czech Republic is a safe country - why do Romanies keep coming when Britain says No?

"Because many Roma people have family in this country...many Roma see what's happening in the Czech Republic. The British government just says yeah the Czech Republic is a safe country because that [Czech] government tells us it's a democratic country, but it's not true. Roma see what happens, Roma live downstairs not upstairs like the government. And Roma come for asylum, still. I'm just saying if you're happy in that country stay, if you're not happy go where you want. If there's democracy in the world, in Europe, go where you want."

How do typical British people treat Romanies?

"Some are friendly, some are rude, but many people are friendly."

Would you say it's better here than in the Czech Republic?

"Of course it's better here, because if we go out we are free, we don't have to look over our shoulders. We just walk, normally walk. But in the Czech Republic if its six o'clock in the evening you can't go outside, or to a restaurant or the cinema, everywhere."