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Kavan meets with British officials over Roma exodus

Radio Prague, September 29th - As the exodus of Czech Roma to Great Britain hits the headlines once again, Czech foreign minister Jan Kavan has been in the UK to discuss the situation with his counterpart Robin Cook. Catherine Miller has more:

Figures for asylum seekers hit a record high in August, with two hundred and fifty-five Roma families from the Czech Republic seeking refuge in the United Kingdom. Last week, British Prime Minister, Tony Blair, wrote to his Czech counterpart, Milos Zeman, warning that unless the Czechs made clear efforts to stem the flow of Roma to the United Kingdom, the British government would impose visa restrictions on all Czechs travelling to the UK. Although Czech Foreign minister, Jan Kavan, hinted that numbers of asylum seekers should be lower for September, he still considers the situation to be very worrying and visa requirements continue to look like a serious possibility:

Robin Cook confirmed the British government's commitment to continuing close co-operation with the Czech government in a united search for a solution to this problem and he added that he has not ruled out the imposition of visas, but that he considers it to be an extreme solution.

Despite the gravity of the situation, Kavan dismissed the idea that the high number of Roma asylum seekers would have an adverse effect on the Czech Republic's attempts to join the European Union. However, he admitted that a matter such as the planned wall in Usti nad Labem, which would physically divide the Roma community from the majority population, could be seriously detrimental to the membership bid because, in that case, the state administration could be accused of persecuting a minority.

Meanwhile, back in the Czech Republic, Kavan's colleague, Prime Minister Milos Zeman, declared that he thought that the exodus was provoked by economic rather than political reasons. Roma emigrants are often accused of going in search of higher social security benefits and to exploit the British immigration system, rather than looking for political refuge. I spoke to Roma parliamentary deputy, Monika Horakova, and asked her whether Mr Zeman was right to place the emphasis on the economic pull of life in Britain:

Prime Minister Zeman also pointed out the difficulties of fulfilling Tony Blair's demand of an action plan against the Roma emigration, as programmes such as increased pre-school education for Roma children, or extra support for setting up new businesses only show results after many years. However, are there any short-term measures which might prevent more Roma leaving the Czech Republic? Monika Horakova:

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