Romani Housing Rights Concerns in Czech Republic
18 May 2007
In 2006, in the Moravian town of Vsetin, near the city of Zlin, local authorities planned and subsequently implemented the expulsion of a group of Roma living in state-owned property in the town centre. Some were expelled to housing in the Poschla quarter on the edge of Vsetin, thereby creating a de facto racially segregated housing estate, and some to extremely substandard housing in a completely different region.
In October 2006, after two years of work towards this end, the city completed the installation of two buildings comprised of metal "containers" in the Poschla quarter on the outskirts of the town. Officials intended to move the Romani residents of the building slated for demolition in the centre, which housed forty-two families, into these containers. The new buildings provided thirty- six flats in total. The town had designed the buildings, according to the media, "especially for inadaptable citizens". The online information agency ROMEA reported that on 5 October 2006, the municipality of Vsetin then held a "grand opening" for the "new Roma ghetto", which was attended by forty municipal representatives from towns all over the Czech Republic who praised the project as a model one. Funding for the container housing was reportedly provided in part by the State Fund for Construction.
Mayor Cunek was quoted by ROMEA as having stated that these flats, ostensibly built for "unadaptables" from "vandalism- proof" materials, would however be assigned to tenants who "meet their civic obligations … by not supporting criminal behaviour by their children, and by paying their rent regularly. We will do our best to get the rest out of the city." The container tenants received month-tomonth contracts and the mayor reportedly stated that anyone whose contract was to be terminated would be immediately "put out on the street". Tenants of the new units also learned they were being charged the highest possible rate for electricity.
On 13 October, Mayor Cunek then had the Romani families, who were, in his words, the most "problematic", transported into the neighbouring region of Olomouc in the middle of the night. Mayor Cunek claimed the families had reached an agreement with the city to leave the Zlin region altogether. The town of Vsetin had purchased properties in isolated areas throughout the Olomouc region, and was reselling them to the "problematic" families, who were also to be lent money for the purchase of these properties by the town of Vsetin.
One Romani NGO sent an open letter to the Government Council for Roma Community Affairs criticising social workers (employed by the town of Vsetin with Council funding) for their role in threatening to remand the children of the families into state care should their parents refuse to sign the purchase agreements. The families had not seen the properties prior to concluding the agreements. They were dropped off in front of various dilapidated buildings in isolated areas, some of which were actually barns or stables. Some of the original owners of the properties told the media that the buildings were not fit for human habitation and that they would never have agreed to the sale had they known the purchaser's intentions. A total of approximately one hundred people were "deported" from the Zlin region in this way, according to a ROMEA report of 3 November. ROMEA further noted that the speaker of the lower house of the Czech Parliament, Miloslav Vlcek, had initiated an investigation into the legality of the purchase agreements.
In November 2006, Romani activists reported that the Roma concerned were in the process of terminating their purchase agreements and moving in with relatives elsewhere in Vsetin. The creation of the new ghetto, the deportations out of the region, and Mayor Cunek's accompanying remarks in the media were protested by Roma across the country, human rights observers and the Secretary of the Government Council for Roma Community Affairs Czeslaw Walek, who observed that the timing of the "grand opening" of the new housing coincided with the run-up to municipal and Senate elections on 20 October 2006. Several individuals and organisations also filed criminal charges against Mayor Cunek and he was repeatedly called to resign from his position as Senator due to his unethical behaviour.
In other news, according a 19 August report in the Prague Daily Monitor, residents of PĹ™erov's Lysky neighbourhood in eastern Czech Republic had recently thwarted attempts by Ms Margita Girgova, a Romani woman, to purchase a house in the neighbourhood, reportedly because they feared having "bothersome" neighbours. Ms Girgova was reportedly the only person to show interest in the house put on sale by the town authorities. Although Ms Girgova allegedly met all of the conditions of the tender, she was not successful, according to the Prague Daily Monitor. Instead, the municipal authorities decided to launch a new tender.
Mr Frantisek Hradil, the mayor of Lysky, sent a letter to the PĹ™erov Municipal Assembly, asking for understanding and stating that not the sale but the new owner is the reason locals felt apprehensive, as there existed a "threat", as a result of the presence of the family, according to Prague Daily Monitor. The newspaper reported that Ms Girgova considered this discrimination and would seek to purchase the house again.
(Prague Daily Monitor, ROMEA)