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Czech Republic: Legal Group Says Romanies Have Asylum Case

Pradubice, Czech Republic; 24 October 1997 (RFE/RL) - An international law group says that Czech Romanies (gypsies) making their way to Great Britain in recent weeks have a valid case for seeking asylum there.

The Budapest-based European Roma Rights Center (ERRC) issued a statement yesterday at an international conference on Romanies saying that many Romanies have reason to fear for their lives in the Czech Republic and Slovakia. Representatives of the two countries denied the charge. The conference, in the Czech city of Pardubice, ends today.

A member of the ERRC board, Romanian Romany activist Nicolae Gheorghe, told our correspondent that many attacks by hate groups and individuals in the Czech Republic on Romanies have been documented, and that the Czech government has failed adequately to prosecute or condemn the attackers.

Gheorghe said that Czech Romanies who have sought asylum in Britain should have their claims considered by an impartial tribunal. He said that if such claims are heard, ERRC and other legal aid groups will be available as advocates.

The ERRC statement said the group is concerned by what it called "alarmist and racist articles in the British media" describing Romany refugees as schemers fleeing the Czech Republic not in fear, but rather for economic motives.

Jiri Malenovsky, Czech ambassador to the Council of Europe, said the principal cause of Romany discontent in the Czech Republic is poor communications which are manifested then, as he put it, in "certain displays of racism." He said neighboring countries have similar problems.

Slovak minorities Commissioner Branislav Balaz said the problemns of Slovak Romanies are social and economic, not racist.