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Helsinki Commission Leaders Denounce Slovak Passport Plan

Washington – United States Helsinki Commission Co-Chairman Rep. Christopher H. Smith (R-NJ) today criticized reports that Slovak Government officials are considering a plan to deny passports to “citizens suspected of trying to emigrate.”

“I am extremely disappointed by this move,” said Smith. “Slovakia is a country that has shown enormous human rights progress since the election of a pro-democracy coalition in 1998. But the passport restrictions we’re reading about today would deny some Slovak citizens the right to leave and return to their country, one of the most fundamental rights recognized in the Helsinki process.”

Ranking Commission Member Rep. Steny H. Hoyer (D-MD) also voiced his concern. “Many Central European leaders deny that Roma face discrimination and claim that Romani asylum seekers are merely ‘economic migrants,’” Hoyer said. “Some leaders have even alleged that Romani asylum seekers are out to discredit their governments – or are even part of a transnational conspiracy being orchestrated from abroad. These countries would be better served if their governments stopped blaming others and started looking at the unremedied problems Roma face at home.”

Since 1999, thousands of Slovak Roma have sought asylum in Western countries such as the United Kingdom, Finland, and Belgium. Most of these Slovak applicants were not granted asylum, although some were. Similarly, more than 5,000 Hungarian citizens (presumed to be members of the Romani minority) have sought asylum in Canada since 1998.

Approximately 30 percent of the Hungarians who have completed the application process have been found by the Canadian Government to have a well-founded fear of persecution and had their requests for asylum granted. Roma from Bulgaria, the Czech Republic, Romania, and Poland have also sought asylum in Canada and other Western countries.

In an effort to reduce the number of asylum seekers from Slovakia, Belgium recently threatened to re-introduce visa requirements for that country. Slovak Government officials recognize that most asylum seekers from their country are Romani, and it is understood that the latest Slovak proposal would be directed against the Romani minority.

“Roma from Slovakia, like those from other Central European countries, have responded to the discrimination and abuse they face by leaving their countries in significant numbers. In an effort to preempt countries like Belgium from re-instating visa requirements, Slovak officials are poised to impose unwarranted restrictions on the right to freedom of movement of Slovak Roma. Not only are such restrictions a violation of OSCE commitments, this short-sighted policy would contribute to a vicious cycle of intolerance and discrimination,” said Smith.

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