One law for Romanies, another for marines

The Government told immigration officials at Prague to stop them even applying for asylum
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The Independent Online

Last week the Government completed another achievement they can boast about, managing to get their policies towards asylum-seekers declared racist by the Law Lords. These are the people who let Pinochet go so their thinking must be: "A chap's got to have a military coup from time to time, but you have to draw the line somewhere." Perhaps it's a party game, and Cabinet meetings involve a series of ministers clapping their hands and yelling: "Here's one. We have to get Widdecombe to shout 'Steady on, burglars aren't that bad'." It could become a cult pastime, with participants trying to get Dido to reject a song for being too bland, or spending an evening with George Best that ends with him saying, "Now you're being silly. I'm going home to bed."

It turns out the Government instructed immigration officials at Prague to interrogate - and thus hopefully discourage - Romanies from applying for asylum to the extent that they became 400 times more likely to be interrogated than non-Romanies. The Home Office said the figures were misleading because more Romanies than non-Romanies were applying. That's not how statistics work. You might as well say the only reason the police are more likely to stop and search a black car driver than a member of the Royal Family in a stagecoach on the way to the state opening of Parliament, is there are more black people than monarchs. In any case, the Romanies were more likely to be applying for asylum than non-Romanies because they're the ones fleeing persecution. This is a common trend in history. If Home Office ministers read about the Second World War, they must think "How peculiar! All these Jews fled Nazi Germany, but the Nazis hardly seemed to flee at all."

In the Czech Republic, Romany houses are regularly burned down, and in one town a wall has been erected around the entire Romany quarter, so this might account for the numbers seeking asylum. So maybe the government should have written to those carrying out the attacks: "Dear Fascists, It has come to our attention that your policy of burning down Romany houses is creating something of a backlog in our asylum process. You might ease our burden if, instead of burning them down you just singe them a bit. Failing that, we would politely request that you persecute them one at a time rather than all at once. Thanking you in advance..."

The origins of the policy may lay in a series of articles that appeared just prior to its adoption, condemning the refugees as cheats and gangsters. For example, one Daily Mail reporter told us he'd seen crowds at Prague airport, eager to come and "exploit our generosity" etc. And when he questioned one of them, he was told, "Oy mate, shut it." Because when you go to school in Prague, that's the first bit of English you learn. Perhaps, under Communism, the only Western culture available was an illegally imported batch of Get Carter videos. Ask a Czech the time in English, and he'll say "You're a big man, but you're out of shape," and throw you off the top of a multi-storey car park.

But there is another story that calls into question the racism of our immigration policy. Two weeks ago, an American body-building ex-marine was sentenced to life for murdering a policeman. He'd been living here seven years, having arrived at Ramsgate with a six-month visa. Immigration officials asked where he was going, and he replied, "To see my mother." So they asked where she lived, to which he said, "Somewhere in London," and they waved him through.

So where was the fury about our lenient immigration laws once he'd committed the murder? Where were the front-page stories screaming: "Analysts predict that if this trend continues, by 2008 all our policemen will have been murdered by American bodybuilders"? Why were there no spokesmen from Migration Watch yelling that London was destined to be swamped by marines, and, before long, it will be illegal to walk up Oxford Street unless you're wearing a cap and chewing and marching while singing: "One-two-three-four"?

Can you imagine the uproar if this murder had been carried out by a Czech Romany who'd overstayed his visa by six years? The Daily Mail would be full of articles like: "It is only sensible that forthwith all asylum-seekers have their organs removed while we process their application. Perhaps if they've no liver or kidneys they won't be able to gun down our officers!"

Instead, we haven't even had a statement from Donald Rumsfeld telling us it was only friendly fire. Maybe Blair will tell us not to be concerned as the claimed death toll of one is an unofficial figure and there are no plans to count the actual number at this stage.

Strangest of all, this policy referred to by the Law Lords as racist went on under the same minister, who referred to the threat of being "swamped" by immigrants. And who responded to a programme revealing there were Ku Klux Klan supporters among the police by haranguing the BBC for making it. Yet only now has he gone over some cobblers about a visa. It's as if the verdict at the Nuremberg trials was that Adolf Eichmann should jolly well resign - for nicking 25 quid out of the petty cash box in Auschwitz.

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