Two hurt as racists march in Dover

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The Independent Online
Two people were injured yesterday as National Front demonstrators marched through Dover in protest against gypsy asylum seekers. The violent clash followed organised disruption of the march by members of the Anti- Nazi league.

A bottle was hurled by one National Front member and slashed open the eye of Steve Wilkins, an Anti-Nazi League supporter. Mr Wilkins, who lives in Medway, Kent, said: "This is the kind of thing you can expect from the National Front. They are all about violence and causing pain and suffering to other people."

More than 100 riot police and dog handlers tried unsuccessfully to keep anti-racist campaigners away from around 50 National Front supporters who claimed they were in the town at the request of angry residents.

But a World in Action documentary due to be screened tomorrow night details the often savage violence faced by the gypsy community

The experience of the gypsies - or Romanies, as they prefer to be called - in Eastern Europe suggests their fear of trampling neo-Nazi boots is not fabricated. Tens of thousands were gassed under Hitler's Third Reich. Since the collapse of communism in the region, moreover, Europe's largest stateless minority has been systematically persecuted in many countries of the former Soviet bloc.

In the Czech Republic, 29 gypies have been killed in the past five years; the figures are similar for Slovakia. There are daily catalogues of stabbings, beatings, burnings and segregation practised in many towns. The authorities, Romanies complain, turn a blind eye if they can.

Repeatedly, the World in Action programme-makers came across examples of brutality, often by skinhead gangs, which has resulted in murders and maiming. In Pisek in the Czech Republic, four young Romanies were chased into a lake. One who tried to climb out, Tibor Danihel, was battered with baseball bats and flung back in. He drowned. He died on his 18th birthday.

Those gang members who were caught were either freed or received suspended sentences. Three were jailed, but for comparatively short periods on relatively minor charges. One skinhead who received a suspended sentence said he felt no remorse for what happened.

Apart from violence, the Romanies say they face the daily indignity of being treated like second-class citizens. Many bars and restaurants in the Czech and Slovak republics simply refuse to serve them.

The arrival of the Romanies in Dover reportedly began after the screening of a documentary on Czech TV about compatriotssettling in Britain. The programme emphasised the financial benefits of asylum over here.

Ladislav Scuka, a Romany who appeared in the documentary discussing the benefit system, denied it was an incitement for more to follow. He fled here, he said, after a firebomb attack on his home in which his daughter was burned.

While seeking asylum, refugees are not allowed to work, and thus have to depend on benefits. A change in the law by the last Conservative government also means they have to stay at the port of entry. In Dover there is some resentment at the financial burden, and petitions are circulating asking why local taxpayers should be lumbered.

Under the Geneva Convention, the Home Office is obliged only to let in those who are shown to be living in fear of state persecution. Merely being terrorised by neo-Nazi gangs does not qualify. To date, not one Romany has been granted asylum.