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Is UK right to fear wave of Roma welfare claimants from Czech Republic, other new EU states?
04-02-2004 - Ian Willoughby

When the European Union enlarges on May 1 several of the EU's bigger countries - such as France, Italy and Germany - will restrict access to migration from the ten new member countries. One of the few countries which will not place such restrictions is Great Britain. In recent days there have been press reports in the UK that Tony Blair's government plans to tighten welfare regulations before May 1, fearing an influx of Romany welfare claimants from the Czech Republic and other former Eastern Bloc states.

Tony Blair, photo: CTK Britain's right wing press in particular has been warning of a "flood" of Romanies from the East, with the Sunday Times suggesting as many as 100,000 may move to the UK.

The figure of 100,000 Roma immigrants to the UK over seven years was given to the Sunday Times by Ondrej Gina Sr., perhaps the Czech Republic's best known Romany activist. However, that figure is challenged by many experts, including Ivan Vesely of the Romany organisation Dzeno: he says Britain can expect about 5,000 Roma immigrants in the next two years. As for Britain itself, the official estimate is that around 13,000 will migrate there from new EU states.

Ondrej Gina The Sunday Times reported that the British Home Office had asked the International Organisation for Migration to launch an advertising campaign in new EU states to draw attention to the difficulties of claiming benefits in the UK. The message they want to promote is that immigrants are free to work where they like, but claiming is a different story.

As it is getting benefits is not easy for EU citizens living in Britain; they need to have worked for a certain period of time and pass a residence test.

While the Czech government as such has not reacted to the British newspaper reports, Deputy Prime Minister Petr Mares, who is responsible for Roma affairs, has described the stories as evidence of "media hysteria". He does concede that, as some Romany groups have said, their could be a significant wave of migration if there is an increase in violence against Roma in the Czech Republic.

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