Discrimination against Roma in Access to Public Accommodation in Hungary

29 July 2004

On May 19, 2004, the online news source Transitions Online (TOL) reported that a Debrecen-based hotel, Centrum Panzio, three times refused to let rooms to Roma. In the first incident, the owner of the Centrum Panzio re-portedly informed an employee of the Romaweb Internet website, operated by the Hungarian Equal Opportunities Ministry's Roma Integration Directorate, trying to rent rooms for a training, that the hotel "cannot put Gypsies up." After this, Romaweb reportedly en-listed the assistance of the Budapest-based Legal Defence Bureau for National and Ethnic Minorities (NEKI), who set up a "test" to see if in fact the hotel had a policy of discriminating against Roma.

On the morning ofApril 9, 2004, Mr Istvan V., a Romani man, and his partner arrived at the hotel and were not even permitted to enter. After ringing the bell, the owner informed the Romani couple that the hotel was full and he was too busy to deal with them. The couple then reportedly stated that they wanted to reserve rooms for a training being organised by the Roma Minority Self-Government. The owner again refused but told them to come back in half an hour. The couple returned later and the owner again told them that there were no vacancies and recommended other hotel. He also informed them, without checking the guestbook, when they tried to reserve rooms for the second half of May for the training that there were no availabilities until September.

Just after the Romani couple left the hotel for the second time, a pair of non-Romani testers entered the hotel. The owner reportedly of-fered the non-Roma a range of accommodation and they booked two rooms. After checking in, the non-Romani testers were offered chocolates. The next morning, the non-Romani testers told the owner that they were looking for a training venue. As the owner prepared their bill, they identified NEKI as the client, without stating what NEKI stood for, though the owner asked. According to Transitions Online, the owner checked the reservation book and found that the hotel was partially reserved for some of the days for which the Romani testers had tried to make reservations, though the reservations were to be confirmed or cancelled on April 20, 2004. The non-Romani testers agreed to call back and were told they would be welcome if any rooms opened up. One of the non-Romani testers called back on April 19 and found that the rooms would be available, though the owner asked whether Romani guests would be coming.

At the beginning of May 2004, NEKI filed a complaint of discrimination against the Centrum Panzio with the Debrecen Notary and the General Inspectorate for Consumer Protection, arguing that the hotel owner violated the Law on National and Ethnic Minority Rights, the Law on Guaranteeing Equal Opportunities, as well as the right to personal protection. In July 2004, the Debrecen City Court imposed a fine of HUF 50,000 (approximately 200 Euro) to the owner of the Centrum Panzio in Debrecen for refusing service to Roma. In addition, the Hungarian Consumer Protection Inspection Board fined the hotel HUF 100,000 (approximately 400 Euro). 

 (Transitions Online, RSK)


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