"We were getting 38,000 Belgian francs a month while we were waiting for the asylum decision. We lost that when we were ousted. I request compensation for this."
Slovak Roma plaintiff Ján Čonka
A ROMA family expelled from Belgium have won their human rights court case but say they will appeal the decision because they are unhappy with the compensation package.
The Strasbourg-based European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) ruled on February 5 that Belgium had violated the human rights of Ján Čonka and his family in 1999 by forcing them to leave the country along with a group of 70 other Slovak Roma.
Belgium must pay the Čonkas damages of 10,000 euros and 9,000 euros in legal costs and expenses.
However, the Belgium Interior Ministry say that it too wants to appeal the court's decision.
Čonka, who with his family now lives in Košice's 'Lúnik IX' Roma ghetto, says the damage award is too low for what his family lost by being sent back to Slovakia without the right of appeal.
"What kind of damage award is 10,000 euros?" asked Čonka, 42. "Our family was getting 38,000 Belgian francs a month (860 euros) while we were there waiting for the asylum decision. We lost that when we were ousted. I request compensation for this."
The ECHR said it had based its verdict in the case of Čonka, his wife Mária Čonková and their children Naďa and Nikola on several points.
The Čonkas and the Belgian non-governmental organisation Human Rights League complained that in October 1999, 11 months after the family had first entered Belgium to request asylum, their human rights were violated when Belgian authorities forced them and a group of 70 other Slovak Roma onto an aircraft bound for Košice in the east of Slovakia.
The family said that they had first been tricked into appearing at Belgian police headquarters, then had numbers written on their arms as a means of identification, and were finally deported to Slovakia before receiving the results of an appeal they had filed disputing an initial asylum rejection by the Belgian authorities.
The collective expulsion of aliens is prohibited by international law. The seven-member ECHR bench decided by four votes to three that this law had been broken by the Belgian authorities.
The court also voted unanimously that there had been a violation of the right to liberty and security that is enshrined in the European Convention on Human Rights, and judged that the right to take proceedings by which the lawfulness of detention shall be decided had also been violated.
Olivier de Schutter, a lawyer with the Human Rights League said: "Belgium must respect the verdict and change its laws so that they are able to offer more guarantees and more legal control for asylum seekers".
Michal Vašečka, a Roma issues analyst with the Institute for Public Afairs (IVO) think tank in Bratislava, said the ruling would serve as a warning to other European countries to deal with asylum seekers on a strictly individual basis.
He said he hoped the verdict would also lead to an effort to unify asylum procedures in EU members states.
Klára Orgovánová, the cabinet's plenipotentiary for solving Roma issues, said that the primary importance of the case was that "somebody has complained about this to international courts at all".
"The verdict confirmed that the Belgian authorities had violated the laws. Now it depends on how much publicity the case gets, and if other countries hear the ECHR message," Orgovánová said.
She refused to comment, however, on the Čonkas' decision to appeal to the ECHR to get more in compensation from the Belgian government. "That's the family's private decision," she said.
Vašečka on the other hand said the appeal was not a good idea.
"The Čonkas realised that they were right to have complained, but I don't think they have grounds for an appeal. It looks now as if they're after money rather than justice. The court's verdict was the correct one," said Vašečka.
18. Feb 2002 at 0:00 | Martina Pisárová