Slovak Roma seek asylum in Czech Republic

Roma asylum seekers have been in the news for some time now, and there's nothing new in the fact that the Roma are dissatisfied, often rightly so, with their social status and with the racism they encounter in Czech society. Many Roma have been trying to find a better life abroad, and that includes some of the estimated 300,000 living in the Czech Republic. In fact, at the beginning of this year, of all the countries in Central and Eastern Europe, the Czech Republic had the biggest number of asylum seekers in Britain. That situation has now changed, says Olga Szantova.

The unexpected news is that the Czech Republic is no longer only a country whose Roma population, or rather a part of it, are seeking a better life abroad. The country has also become a destination for Roma from its eastern neighbor, Slovakia. Since the beginning of this year 313 Slovak citizens have sought asylum in this country, 170 of them this past weekend alone. The main reason given by the asylum seekers are cuts in social benefits in Slovakia. Dissatisfaction with the political situation in Slovakia came a poor second.

According to Slovak sources, 100, that's one third of the asylum seekers, come from the same east Slovak district of Michalovce, which has a huge Roma population. Actually, many of the Roma who are now considered Czech came from Eastern Slovakia, or rather their parents did. Practically all the original Roma population of the Czech lands were exterminated in the Holocaust. After the war, Roma from the eastern part of Czechoslovakia were relocated here by the post-war authorities. The border regions and many other parts of the country, especially places with less attractive heavy industry, needed manpower. Bringing in the Roma was seen as a cheap means of solving that problem, while, at the same time, assimilating them into society. Many of the current problems we face in this country are a consequence of that step.

At one point the number of would-be refugees was such that Britain and even Belgium were considering imposing visas for Czech citizens. That has now changed. Only 95 Czech Roma asked for British asylum in April, and only 70 in May. For two months now the Czech Republic has not figured on Britain's list of top asylum seekers. Instead, it seems to have found a place on the list of destinations for Roma asylum seekers from east of this country.

Author: Olga Szantová
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