The British government is rapidly losing patience with the seemingly endless flow of Slovak Romany asylum-seekers to its shores. More than 650 new Romany migrants left eastern Slovakia for England in August, adding to the 550 who had already applied for refuge this year. Romany leaders in Slovakia report that more are already on the way.
Slovak officials said they believed the exodus would not result in the reintroduction of a visa requirement for Slovaks to enter Britain, but the British response was not reassuring.
"We are against this solution and we are assured by the British officials that they would not prefer it either," said Jozef Šesták, Slovak Foreign Ministry State Secretary, on September 4 after emerging from discussions with British Ambassador Peter Harborne and British Foreign Office official Howard Pearce. A source inside the British embassy said that Pearce had confirmed that Britain was considering imposing the visa requirement.
Claiming to be the victims of state persecution and racially-motivated violence, more than half of the Romanies who recently sought political asylum in Great Britain arrived from August 24 to 29. The biggest group came from eastern Slovakia's Michalovce district. "There are some 70 - 80 families from Michalovce district in England," said Jaroslav Ferenc, a Michalovce town council deputy and a member of the Romany Civic Initiative (ROI) party. "More families have their air tickets booked already and will leave some time next week."
According to Ferenc, the Romanies are leaving because they feel discriminated against by the Slovak state administration. The state, he said, had cut off some of their sources of social welfare, but was not able to provide a sufficient number of jobs in exchange. "Nobody wants to employ Romanies, so what should they live from?" asked Ferenc.
But Milan Tokár, the Slovak Foreign Affairs Ministry spokesman, said that the decision of the British authorities to grant asylum to six Romany applicants from Slovakia in June had started an avalanche. "As we expected, those decisions caused an epidemic and spurred a huge exodus of Romany citizens," he said.
Tokár maintained, however, that most of the applicants would not gain asylum as they had fled Slovakia to improve their economic situation rather than to avoid political and racial persecution. "Anyone who thinks they will be as successful as the six mentioned Slovaks will be very disappointed," Tokár added.
On July 27, the British government introduced a new immigration and asylum law based on the principles of "fairer, faster and firmer." The 'White Paper,' as the immigration law is known, forces asylum seekers to rely on their own resources, and minimises cash payments through the introduction of a voucher system. Furthermore, the application procedure has been shortened, and applicants who have been refused are immediately returned to their home country.