Re-introduction of British immigration controls sparks fresh controversy

The news that the Czech government has approved the re-introduction of British immigration controls at Prague's Ruzyne Airport has sparked fresh controversy on the Czech political scene. Daniela Lazarova sums up the story.

The government's attempt to justify this unpopular move on the grounds that the introduction of visa restrictions by Great Britain would be far more painful and damaging, appears to have fallen on deaf ears. Opposition parties have bombarded the Cabinet with criticism, their main argument being that the Czech government is not properly defending the rights of its citizens. Jan Kasal, deputy chairman of the Christian Democrats, put it this way:

"The Czech foreign minister Jan Kavan is acting as if he were an emissary of the Queen of England rather than a Czech government representative. It would have been better to consider other options." Some of those who have undergone the checks by British immigration officials claim that the questions are too personal and that the whole process is humiliating. Romanies who have been turned away claim that it is racist. So is the practice, which Great Britain already has with many other states, in violation of human rights? The Czech government's human rights commissioner Jan Jarab, thinks the issue has been blown out of proportion, telling newsmen:

"As I see it, the Czech government chose the lesser of three evils. The worse options were the introduction of visa restrictions or no action at all. A visa regime would have done a great deal more damage and the idea that we should stick our heads in the sand and ignore Britain's problems with Czech asylum seekers is unthinkable."

President Vaclav Havel is not happy about the controls, but he too considers them preferable to the introduction of visas. He argues that a long term solution to the problem must be sought elsewhere. "What this is primarily about is that some Czech citizens are fleeing the country and we need to give that matter serious consideration" the President said.

Since the British immigration controls were suspended a fortnight ago, the number of Czech asylum seekers in Great Britain is said to have increased by 74 people. Although the departure gate at Prague's Ruzyne Airport will again be closed to potential asylum seekers, other routes to Britain remain open. For the present, that does not appear to be an issue.