05 October 2005

Government Officials and Members of Civil Society Join Romani Families Threatened with Forced Eviction in Bohumin

Budapest, Bohumin. A number of parties concerned at as-yet unchecked racial segregation in the field of housing in the Czech Republic yesterday spent the night in the flats of four families threatened with forcible expulsion from their homes in the northern Czech town of Bohumin.

The families concerned have been under threat of forced eviction since June, when municipal officials informed them that, following expiry on June 30 of their rental contracts to stay in a hostel for low-income and other poor families, they would have to move out, along with approximately 250 other inhabitants of the hostel. The majority of the persons affected are Romani. Until issued with eviction orders, they have been long-term legal tenants of the building. An appeal on behalf of the families by five non-governmental organizations including the ERRC, sent to Czech Prime Minister Jiri Paroubek on June 30 (see, remains as yet unanswered and without any apparent effect.

Under intense pressure and harassment by municipal officials, most of the families have now left the building, despite having been provided with no reasonable alternative housing. Some have emigrated from the Czech Republic, having abandoned hope of a life with dignity in the country. The failure to secure the basic well-being of the persons concerned calls into question the Czech Republic's compliance with a number of its international law obligations. However, four families, including the family of Mrs. Renata Scukova, stayed on, and brought legal challenges against the evictions. Mrs. Scukova was moved to challenge the evictions after municipal officials urged her to separate from her husband Stefan so that she might move into a shelter for single mothers.

By way of retribution, the city of Bohumin has undertaken a number of arbitrary acts against the families, including engaging a private security company to guard the door of the hostel and to block anyone but persons living there – including close family members – from entering the building. For the services of this security company, the city of Bohumin has issued monthly bills to the families concerned. In July, this bill was 76,549 Czech crowns, or approximately 2580 Euro, to be divided among the families. Mrs. Scukova's family's share of this and other bills, only for the month of July, was 27,802 Czech crowns (approximately 940 Euro).

In addition, as a result of these measures, Mrs. Scukova, who previously was a fastidious rent- and utilities-payer, has now accrued approximately 110,000 Czech crowns of debt (approximately 3710 Euro). She and her family will not be eligible for social housing in the Czech Republic until this debt is repaid. She now must also endure the public humiliation of Bohumin municipal officials, who regularly call her a "non-payer" in the media, as part of efforts to garner public support for expelling her into homelessness. In so doing, local officials inflame anti-Romani sentiment, by encouraging existing widespread stereotypes of Roma abusing social benefits.

On September 15, a court in Karvina ruled against Mrs. Scukova's appeal against the eviction order, and gave her 15 days to move out. She will appeal the decision as soon as it is issued in writing. Along with 15 other persons, she remains in the hostel.

The threatened expulsion of these families from their housing is part of a dramatic expansion of efforts at racial segregation in the field of housing in the Czech Republic in recent years, a problem of which the Czech government is aware. The Czech government informed the UN Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination in 2002 that, "Although the Czech Republic has been systematically striving to prevent all forms of racial segregation, some municipalities have adopted, within their separate competencies, certain measures whose consequences show some symptoms of segregation." Despite this fact, as of 2002, "No changes occurred in the housing legislation concerning protection against discrimination. Housing laws still lack non-discrimination provisions, even the declaratory ones. Prohibition of discrimination is not stipulated even in the laws and regulations applying to the allocation, renting, privatization or sale of municipal apartments." This situation remains true today, and no government programme exists to reverse racial segregation in the field of housing.

As a result, a number of concerned parties have come to the assistance of Mrs. Scukova and the other Romani families threatened with eviction in Bohumin. In the night of October 4, persons including the Czech government's Commissioner for Human Rights Mr. Svatopluk Karasek and members of his staff; Deputy Ombudsman Ms. Anna Sabatova; as well as members of the civil organisations Life Together, League of Human Rights and the European Roma Rights Centre, spent the night as guests of Mrs. Scukova and the other three families concerned, in flats in the hostel in Bohumin. The action was intended as a gesture of solidarity with these and other victims of racial segregation in the Czech Republic. It also aimed to bring public attention to this emergency.

The action "Guests of Mrs. Scukova" was not without opposition. Acting on the orders of municipal officials of Bohumin, security guards refused to allow the guests to enter the building – including Mrs. Scukova's attorney, who requested to meet with her client in private. Despite an obvious breach of law, police refused to remove the seven security guards concerned in the evening hours of October 4. It was only after the intervention of the deputy director of police of the Northern Moravian region of the Czech Republic that security guards finally allowed Mrs. Scukova's guests and members of her close family to enter the building, four-and-a-half hours after they had first arrived.

Commenting in the Czech weekly Respekt on his reasons for undertaking the action, Life Together Director Kumar Vishwanathan said, "I decided to support them. I was thinking constantly of Mrs. Ratzova, who was expelled from a hostel in Slany in exactly the same circumstances two years ago. She then wandered around the whole country, searching in vain for some kind of accommodation. After four months, when she was at the end of her strength, she gave up her children into state care. Completely ruined, she moved in with her mother and her psychologically ill brother, who some time thereafter killed her. This woman lived a normal existence with her children, when there suddenly came a powerful assault on her life. She was kicked around like a balloon and then entirely abandoned. When I look at the situation in Bohumin now, I can't help but think of her."

Persons wishing to express concern at recent developments in Bohumin, as well as at housing segregation in the Czech Republic generally, are urged to address correspondence to:

Mr. Jiri Paroubek
Prime Minister of the Czech Republic
Urad vlady CR
Nabrezi Edvarda Benese 4
118 01, Prague 1
Czech Republic
Fax: (420) 257 533 053


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