Hop On Board, Unless You’re A Gypsy

No. 50 of #50cases.

2001, Prague Airport. Six people were prevented from boarding a flight to the UK.  All had one thing in common. Suspected terrorists? No. Carrying weapons? No. A criminal record?  None. They were all Czech nationals of Romani ethnic origin, known as Gypsies.

Gypsies were often subjected to discrimination in the Czech Republic, including physical attacks. This led some of them to claim asylum in the UK.  But as part of a crack-down on immigration, the British government stationed officials at Prague airport to question everyone boarding flights to the UK. If officials thought a passenger was likely to claim asylum once they arrived, they would not be allowed to get on the plane.

Here is the problem. Gypsies were given a tougher ride. They were questioned much more intensively, and had to produce more evidence to prove they were not going to claim asylum. The six Gypsies stopped in July 2001 challenged this in court, arguing that it was discriminatory. The judges in the House of Lords (which is now called the Supreme Court)  found that the system was  ‘inherently and systematically discriminatory’. Extraordinarily, 90% of Gypsies were refused entry compared with 0.2% of non-Gypsies. Such discrimination on racial grounds is against both UK and international law.

Why is the case important? Because the judges commented that it is direct discrimination to stereotype people, even if the stereotype has some truth to it.  It was discriminatory to treat an individual Gypsy differently because Gypsies as a group were more likely to claim asylum.So if you’re stopped getting “on board” with anything in life, perhaps a job that requires physical strength just because you’re a woman, or a job in a nursery school because you’re a man, this case will help you prove those decisions may just be illegal.

This story is a short summary of a legal decision. You can read the full text here

Media Coverage of this story