News in brief; Britain 'fast-tracks' Roma back to discrimination Britain 'fast-tracks' Roma back to discrimination Britain 'fast-tracks' Roma back to discrimination

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Members of one of the most socially deprived communities in Europe, the Roma, are being deported in large numbers and at huge expense, even though in a year's time, when their home countries become EU members, they will be able to legally reside in the UK.
The All-Party Parliamentary Group for Roma Affairs in Stage One Accession Countries launched a disturbing report last month on the plight of Roma people in eastern European countries where, though the governments eager to join the EU have been enacting laws to outlaw discrimination in order to meet the criteria set by the European Council, the actual life of Roma is still one of prejudice, violence and discrimination.

White list
From 1990 to 1999, 7,000 Roma asylum seekers from eastern Europe were granted refugee status in the EU. However, a recent amendment to the Nationality, Immigration and Asylum Act in the UK has facilitated the deportation of Roma to the Czech Republic, Hungary, Poland and the Slovak Republic on the grounds that these countries (the so-called 'white list') are safe and governed by the 'rule of law', and appeals against deportation decisions have been curtailed.

Even before there has been any time to assess the impact of the government's 'white-list' policy, the Home Office has proposed that the original list of ten countries, from which asylum applicants' claims will be deemed 'manifestly unfounded' and their appeal rights restricted, is to be extended. Now other countries with Roma populations - Albania, Bulgaria, Serbia and Montenegro, Macedonia, Romania - are also to be added to the 'white list'. Applicants from any of these countries will most probably be detained at Oakington reception centre, where their claims will be 'processed' within 10 days. In such conditions, detainees will have little chance of rebutting the presumption that their claims are unfounded.

The report on the Roma
Launching the report on Roma in eastern Europe, Lord Avebury, involved in supporting and advising the research, pointed out that attempts to prevent Roma asylum seekers from entering the country are pointless and wasteful. 'After 1 May 2004, all these people will be coming here legally. Why spend all this money turning Romani asylum seekers back?', he asked. He suggested that EU member states should help attack the root causes of asylum claims. 'People should connect the influx of Romani asylum seekers with the failure of states concerned to eliminate inequality. If countries eliminated violence and discrimination, people wouldn't be asking for asylum.'

Paul Mercer, the chairman of the Roma Rights and Access to Justice in European organisations said: 'Roma are consistently bottom of the pile. Unless their situation improves, these states should not be accepted into the EU. The human rights record of the EU is at stake.'

Examples from four of the accession countries include:

Czech Republic
Although the most reliable estimates by the Minority Rights Group put Roma numbers at around 2.9% (275,000) of the 10.3 million population, the census of 2001 put it at 11,716, (a third of the 1991 figure), because there is such reluctance to admit to Roma ethnicity for fear of persecution.

In recent years, there have been numerous cases of violent assaults on Roma men by skinheads and police officers. Rarely are the perpetrators brought to justice, and, when they are, the process is slow.

According to Save the Children, Roma children are fifteen times more likely than non-Roma children to be placed in special schools for those with learning disabilities which means that 75 per cent of Roma children are segregated in a substandard separate education system.

In the absence of legislation against discrimination in housing, Roma families are allocated inferior social housing and are vulnerable to eviction.

Although, the government has ratified virtually all international and European treaties relating to the protection of minorities, new legislation<

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