London, 21 October 1997 (RFE/RL) -- British authorities are preparing emergency measures to cope with an influx of Czech and Slovak gypsies seeking political asylum. Over the past four days 200 gypsies have turned up at one of Britain's main maritime ports, Dover, raising the total number of arrivals to some 800 adults and children over the past three months.
Many of the asylum seekers say they are fleeing racial harassment in their home countries -- a claim dismissed by Czech and Slovak officials.
The gypsies began arriving after the broadcast of a television program in the Czech Republic which reported that Britain's welfare benefits and its asylum system were easy to manipulate. British officials are preparing to send extra immigration officials to Dover to help process the applications. Local authorities have opened a former nursing home with room for up to 100 people, and have been offered the use of a former army barracks for emergency accommodation.
Local officials have appealed for government help to meet the bill of up to $3.2 million to provide temporary accommodation and education for the asylum seekers who arrived by ferry after driving across Europe.
At the weekend 46 Slovaks and 125 Czechs arrived at Dover and 125 claimed asylum, although 38 later abandoned their applications. Immigration officials said 74 were returned to the French port of Calais.
Immigration officials said there are reports that a further 2,000 Slovak and Czech gypsies are presently on their way to Britain.
The British government has said that bogus asylum seekers will be expelled from Britain. Home Office (interior ministry) minister Mike O'Brien said yesterday that bogus asylum-seekers "normally go for the line of least resistance and word has got around that Britain is a soft option."
But the introduction of a new EU convention last month undermined the government's ability to remove bogus asylum-seekers speedily.
Under the Dublin Convention on immigration, non-EU asylum-seekers traveling without visas can apply for refuge not at the first "safe" country they encounter, but in the state in which they wish to live.
Reports today say that authorities in Slovakia are preparing to make television and radio appeals urging gypsies not to travel to Britain.
The influx of gypsies to Britain and the problems they are causing for local authorities will be raised this week at a conference in Pardubice in the Czech Republic. The conference, organized by the Council of Europe, will discuss the plight of Europe's seven million gypsies, many of whom live in squalid conditions because of a lack of suitable sites.
Earlier this year thousands of gypsies from the Czech Republic headed for Canada. But that outlet route was blocked a fortnight ago when the Ottawa government imposed visa restrictions on Czechs.