On 21 April, roughly ten skinheads attacked a Roma house in the north-east town of Opava in the Czech Republic. The incident ended with broken windows and the arrest of one skinhead who is now facing charges of violating public order. "They were shouting 'Czech Lands to Czechs' and 'Gypsies to gas,'" said one of the residents of the house.
Shortly after the shouting began, a young man, who climbed to the first floor holding a steal ball on a chain, broke the windows. The police arrested the 20-year-old skinhead. However, the police did not find the rest of the skinheads who attacked the house. Although the skinheads congregated and assaulted the house inhabited by Roma on the day marking Nazi leader Adolf Hitler's birthday, police did not accuse the arrested skinhead of a racially motivated attack. According to the inhabitants of the house, this is not the first attack by skinheads.
Belgium prepares stricter asylum policy
Last week, the Slovak Government negotiated with the Belgium authorities a stricter asylum policy towards Roma from Slovakia. Belgium warned the Slovak Republic that it would request an exception from the European Commission, and re-introduce a visa regime with Slovakia. Slovak Foreign Minister Eduard Kukan and Minister of Interior Ladislav Pittner would like Belgium authorities to expel Roma immediately after they enter their territory.
Head of the Office for Roma Legal Protection Edmund Muller argued that Kukan's statements can be interpreted as an act of discrimination and intimidation against Slovak Roma asylum seekers. He also argued that that the statements may be against internationally guaranteed human rights.
The number of Roma seeking asylum in Belgium has increased since Belgium removed visa restrictions for Slovaks on 10 April 2001. Pittner has said that police are investigating allegations that a professional group are centrally organizing the movement of asylum seekers.
It is beleived that Belgium is an attractive destination for asylum seekers because, although the authorities do not provide financial assistance to Romani, they often pay for a return flight to Slovakia. The Roma tend to keep the money and stay in Belgium illegally.
Pittner argued that there was no way of preventing Roma from seeking asylum, or from buying tickets and leaving the country. The only legal means of preventing Roma from leaving the country is if they have committed a crime.
In a telephone conversation between Slovak Prime Minister Mikulaš Dzurinda and Belgium Prime Minister Guy Verhofstadt, Verhofstadt warned that if asylum seekers continued to travel to Belgium his government would have no choice but to re-impose visa restrictions.
Eva Sobotka, 27 April 2001
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