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Czech Roma denied entry to the UK

Several independent reports received by Amnesty International suggest that UK immigration officials based at Prague airport are singling out travellers from the country's Roma ('Gypsy') minority because of concerns that they may claim political asylum when they reach the UK.

Czech citizens of Roma origin are reportedly more frequently taken aside for detailed questioning and more often refused permission to board their flights. The embarkation checks are being conducted despite the fact that Czech citizens do not need a visa to travel to the UK.

Amnesty International UK Communications Director Richard Bunting said:

'It is a disgrace that the UK government is seeking to prevent asylum claims by Czech Roma who may have suffered racist violence and state indifference. The UK is dishonouring the spirit of the 1951 Refugee Convention which should ensure all asylum seekers a fair hearing of their claims.'

In considering the record of the Czech Republic last week the UN Human Rights Committee expressed concern at the 'violence and harassment by some groups with respect to the Roma minority, and the failure on the part of the police and judicial authorities to investigate, prosecute and punish hate crimes'.

As the Czech Republic prepares for accession to the EU, there has been a failure of foreign policy by UK diplomats and Brussels officials who have not persuaded the Czech authorities to end discriminatory practices against Roma.

The threat of racist violence against Czech Roma by right-wing groups and inaction by the authorities has been met with rejection of such asylum claims by the UK Home Office. But in May the UK court of appeal accepted that a Czech Roma and his family had been subjected to racist attacks by skinheads and overturned the Home Office's refusal of asylum.

On Friday 20 July Ota Absolon, a 30-year-old Roma man, was stabbed to death in an apparently racially motivated attack in the Czech Republic. The man charged with the killing had earlier been convicted for another violent crime. The court's decision to allow him to appeal at liberty was surprising given his conviction in 1997 for stabbing a Roma man in the stomach. On that occasion he received only a suspended sentence.

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