Discrimination against Roma in Hungary

Hungarian media reported on January 30, 2001, that airline employees had prevented a Romani man, Mr János Bogdán, from checking-in for that day’s Malev flight from Budapest’s Ferihegy airport to Toronto. Malev is the Hungarian national airline. Mr Bogdán told the ERRC that his Green Point bank card, with which he attempted to demonstrate that he had sufficient funds for his stay, was declared a forgery by Malev officials. Green Point is a U.S. bank, and Mr Bogdán told the ERRC that he opened an account there during an earlier six month stay in New York. His ethnic Hungarian wife and their child were not prevented from checking-in, although they did not take the flight. A Malev spokesman, Ms Mar-git Kocsi, stated that the Canadian authorities required foreigners entering the country to have the equivalent of 100 Canadian dollars for each day of their stay, or a valid letter of invitation, and that the random inspection of documents is routine. Mr Bogdán believes that he was prevented from travelling because Malev officials suspected that, because he was Romani, he would claim asylum upon arrival in Canada. The Hungarian Helsinki Committee has filed a compensation claim with Malev on behalf of Mr Bogdán, claiming pecuniary and non-pecuniary damages of 500,000 Hungarian forints (approximately 1875 euros). However, to date, Malev has only refunded the price of the family’s tickets and refused the request for damages. Mr Bogdán and his family have since fled to Holland and claimed asylum. The allegations are not the first concerning Hungarian authorities attempting to prevent Roma from leaving Hungary.

In other news, Hungarian courts have recently ruled in cases of discrimination against Roma in Hungary. On November 29, 2000, the Kisvárda Court established that the Blue Lagoon Club Association had violated the law by not admitting Roma to their disco in Dombrád, in northeastern Hungary, on Saturday nights. According to this court decision, the Blue Lagoon Club Association must pay a fine of 200,000 Hungarian forints (approximately 750 euros).The exclusion of Roma was reported to a district attorney by theBudapest-based non-governmental organisation Legal Defence Bureau for National and Ethnic Minorities (NEKI), which documented the racial discrimination earlier this year through testing procedures: Romani testers were consistently refused entry for lack of membership evidence, while non-Roma could enter without being asked to show membership cards. In 1999, the Consumer Protection Inspectorate had attempted to close the disco because of discriminatory practices. The owners had attempted to take advantage of a legal loophole by making entry into the disco subject to membership, but the court rejected the legitimacy of this practice.

The European Union “Report on Progress Towards Accession by each of the Candidate Countries”, released on November 8, 2000, stated of the treatment of Roma by Hungarian society: “Roma have continued to suffer prejudice and widespread discrimination in society. The Ombudsman for Ethnic and Minority Rights noted that discrimination was present in the judiciary, in the police, in employment and education. According to data from the Legal Defence Bureau for National and Ethnic Minorities, a majority of discrimination cases were lodged against the practices of local Self-Governments — most of the cases involved ‘everyday racism’, e.g. the denial of entrance to bars, or in relation to employment. Discrimination in housing and access to public institutions also remained a serious problem.”

(ERRC, Roma Press Center)

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