Czech human rights activists: “The media stopped writing about discrimination against Ukrainian Roma refugees, but the situation has not improved”

On December 8, Romano vož magazine published an article about how people from various volunteer initiatives and NGOs help Roma from Ukraine who fled the war. According to them, in most cases, the Czech authorities are removed from solving the problems of Ukrainian Roma, and the situation remains extremely difficult for them.

Most of the Roma who are currently in the Czech Republic fled from Donbas. For example, a Roma group of five adults and nineteen children currently lives in a hostel in the city of Luby. About ten more people live in other places reserved for refugees. According to the director of the organization Khamoro Chodov, Emil Voráč, many Roma were forced to return back to Ukraine or leave for Western Europe due to the lack of humanitarian assistance and the lack of interest of the locals in helping Roma families. “About half of them returned to Ukraine, while the other half continued on their way to Western Europe, such as Germany, Ireland or Norway. There was and remains some intolerance towards them on the part of various state bodies. Although the Ukrainian Roma are not covered in the media now, the situation has not improved,” Voráč says. About three hundred Ukrainian Roma have passed through his organization since the beginning of the war.

“For example, in Luby, the mayor told us not to count on cooperation. He also influenced local businessmen, so Roma refugees could not find work in the city. Employees of official aid centers did not take Ukrainian Roma to medical institutions, and the children did not attend the local school, since it is far away and they simply could not get to it on their own. Efficiency depended on local volunteers, and here everyone we contacted broadcasted in response what the mayor said. On the other hand, we did not have such problems in the city of Cheb.”

Now ten Roma schoolchildren from Luby have to cover 35 kilometers every day to get to school in Cheb. They get up at four in the morning to catch the five o’clock train and be at school on time. David Grunza, who works as an administrator at Khamoro Chodov’s hostel in Luby, accompanies these children to and from school every morning. According to him, traveling to work requires not only time but also money. The organization spends about 23,000 CZK per month on transport alone.

An investigation conducted by the Office of the Ombudsman Klára Šimáčková Laurenčíková in several regional centers for assistance to Ukraine showed that in mid-May discrimination against Roma refugees took place in the Prague center. Roma refugees were allowed into the registration center only if they were accompanied by a non-profit sector worker or a police officer. They also had to have housing as a precondition for applying for temporary protection. According to Klára Šimáčková Laurenčíková, later the situation improved, however, discrimination against Ukrainian Roma continues to take place both on the part of the authorities and on the part of some citizens who, especially at the beginning of the war, helped the refugees in every possible way, but not the Roma.

The founder of the Konexe association and activist Miroslav Brož also spoke about the negative attitude of the Czech society towards Roma from Ukraine. According to him, he foresaw this and therefore, having no illusions about the Czech Republic, from the beginning of the war he helped to resettle the Roma further, to Western Europe. “Already at the beginning, we could assess what would happen, that they would be treated differently from other refugees. Here, Roma refugees get off the train and have to wait twelve hours in front of the registration center, as their dual citizenship is checked. The entire verification process can take up to nine days, and during this time they cannot receive assistance and spend the night at the refugee center, so they sleep at the station. If the authorities find out that they have dual citizenship, they are denied any support. If dual citizenship is not confirmed, Roma families are taken in custody to detention centers or to a tent camp. These are just barracks built in the middle of the wasteland and surrounded by barbed wire, where instead of rooms there are cells. Some Roma, seeing what was happening in the camp, refused to get off the bus, which was later regarded by the authorities as a refusal to help. Therefore, I went to friendly institutions in Germany and found out if they were ready to take in Roma families. They agreed, and in the end, in Germany, they not only took care of the first small group that we sent them but also managed the influx, which did not stop for three months. In addition, we sent dozens of people to Norway, Slovakia and Dublin,” Brož said.

The director of the non-profit organization Mutual Coexistence, Kumar Vishwanathan, confirms the unsatisfactory conditions of the Roma in detention centers. “In the refugee camp at Vysni Lhoty there were mostly women and children, who were completely isolated there. We constantly brought soccer balls to the children, because if the ball flew over the barbed wire during the game, they could not even get it,” says Vishwanathan. In spring, between 12,000 and 13,000 Ukrainian Roma lived in the city of Ostrava: “They mostly lived at railway stations or in a camp in Vysni Lhoty, which the government closed at the end of June. I know only four families left in the Czech Republic. The rest went to Germany or returned to Ukraine,” says Vishwanathan.

According to Milady Hoškova of the Iniciativa Hlavák, Roma refugees still arrive in the Czech Republic from time to time, but not in the same numbers as in spring, and they mostly transit to Western European countries. Karel Karika, a representative of the city of Ústí nad Labem and a Roma activist, also says that now it is more about migration from region to region. But they all expect another influx of Roma this winter as infrastructure in Ukraine has been damaged by shelling, leaving many people without electricity, heat or water.