Finnish Prime Minister Paavo Lipponen suggested on July 1 that Slovakia review its treatment of Slovak Gypsies after hundreds of them sought asylum in Finland in the past week.
Lipponen spoke on Finnish television as Finland on Thursday last week took over the rotating presidency of the European Union, and he indicated that the issue could affect Slovakia's chances of joining the EU.
"It is out of the question that countries where conditions are not in order should join the European Union," Lipponen said. He said it was exceptional that so many refugees should come to Finland from a single country and that his government was investigating the matter.
"We also want to find out what is happening in Slovakia and how this could affect Slovakia's progress towards EU membership."
Lipponen, a Social Democrat, said Finland had long been concerned about treatment of the roughly seven million Gypsies, or Romanies, in Eastern Europe, many of whom have faced discrimination in the past. He said the influx of Slovak Gypsies showed how important it would be for October's EU summit in Tampere, Finland to discuss immigration issues.
Officials said earlier this week that almost 400 Slovak Gypsies had sought asylum in Finland since June 24, raising the number that have applied this year to almost 700, the largest number of Slovak refugees in the EU. Twenty-two arrived at Helsinki's international airport on June 30, according to the daily newspaper Helsingin Sanomat.
A Romany by the name of Horolovec in the Luník IX slum of Košice, a city in the east of Slovakia, was quoted by the Slovak daily paper Sme on July 1 as saying "if I had the money, I'm there [in Finland] but I would need about 12,000 crowns, and I don't have that kind of money."
The paper reported that Slovak Romanies see Finland as an easy mark for granting asylum. In the past several years, Slovak Romanies have made similar exoduses to Canada and Great Britain.
Finnish Interior Minister Kari Hakamies said he wants the immigration directorate to speed up processing of the Slovak Gypsies' applications and that senior government officials would discuss the matter on June 2.
19. Jul 1999 at 0:00 | Reuters