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Racist attacks on Gypsies

by Tony Gard

The hysterical reaction to the arrival of several families of gypsy asylum seekers from Slovakia and the Czech Republic in Dover during October shows the reality of the governments racist attitude to asylum and rights.

For all the talk of 'bogus asylum seekers' the truth is that gypsies have suffered from severe, long-standing discrimination in central Europe, and their situation is getting worse. Their fears of persecution are well-grounded - hundreds of thousands of gypsies were exterminated by the Nazi occupation of central Europe during the Second World War. Over the last few years the economic, social and political problems caused by capitalist restoration in these countries have left them feeling increasingly vulnerable again

In the former Czechoslovakia, now divided into the Czech Republic and in Slovakia, gypsies face mounting levels of racism, including racist attacks. 18 gypsies have been murdered in racist attacks in the last two years.

It is this racist persecution that is forcing gypsies out their homes, not TV programmes about the alleged ease of asylum and benefit conditions in Britain. There do seem to be forces in the Czech media deliberately spreading such stories as part of an attempt to drive gypsies out of the country - this summer there were similar reports about Canada - but this just shows the intense level of racism they face. The response of the British media, presenting the gypsies as foreign 'benefit scroungers' is spreading the same racism.

The authorities have used this to start deporting them immediately, without giving them the opportunity to pursue their asylum applications. Fewer than 170 refugees from the two countries arrived between 17 and 19 October, but nearly 60 were sent back or 'persuaded' to return immediately. Of the rest, it appears that all the men have been detained by the immigration authorities.

The tone of the statement by the Slovak embassy in London gives some idea of the sort of treatment they can expect - "...We will deal quickly and strictly with you so we could return you where you came from as soon as possible" .

The Labour government has even appealed to the Czech government to co-operate by stopping gypsies coming to Britain. Labour prefers that gypsies are forcibly kept at home to be persecuted so that they won't have the embarrassment of sending them back! What next? - Will they ask the Turkish government to co-operate by keeping the Kurds in Turkey, or request General Abacha to make sure that pro-democracy campaigners stay in Nigeria?

The truth is that the government has used this situation to justify its 'hard line' on detention and deportations and its continuation of Tory policies like the Immigration and Asylum Act. As part of our fight against these racist policies we must defend the gypsy refugees, demand that those in detention are released and that they are all given immediate asylum in Britain.

[Taken from November 1997 Moveemnt for Justice magazine]

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