The first group of Romany asylum seekers returned home from Belgium October 6 and quietly expressed hopes that the Slovak government would now better attend to their needs, the SITA news agency reported.
The Slovak Romanies made international headlines October 3 when about 150 Belgians protested against their repatriation in Brussles. Though it began calmly, the protest was later broken up by police with water cannons as some of the demonstrators attempted to tear down the fence surrounding the Roma's refugee camp.
The issue of forced deportations is a touchy one in Belgium as a young Nigerian refugee was recently killed when Belgian escorts muffled her protests on a plane home with a pillow. The protesters held up signs calling Interior Minister Antoine Duquesne a "fascist" and complained that the Slovak Roma had been tricked into coming to the guarded detention center last week. The Roma had been told they had to fill out some asylum-related paperwork, then were locked in.
The 450 Romanies will be transported home on three flights, one of which will be paid for by the Slovak government at a cost of about 300,000 Slovak crowns. The first wave of 74 Roma arrived October 6 at the Košice airport. No Roma from this wave were granted asylum in Belgium.
Half of the returned Roma were children. Most of the refugees avoided speaking to journalists, although a few said they would think about fleeing to New Zealand or Australia if they continue to be unhappy in Slovakia.
In an interview with The Slovak Spectator October 6, Vice Prime Minister for European Integration Pavol Hamžík said, "No one is ethnically discriminated against here. They are not able to integrate into the society, and our mission is to help them."
11. Oct 1999 at 0:00 | Sharon Otterman