The city administration of Brno has closed the refugee camp where about 300 Roma lived

The Brno administration has closed the temporary camp for refugees from Ukraine where Roma families used to live. According to volunteers, up to 300 people used the camp in a month and a half, and many of them repeatedly returned there for help.

The camp was set up in early June after Roma refugees from Ukraine had camped out near the main railway station in Brno. According to volunteers from the “Grand Initiative”, the city authorities violated the agreement to prolong the work of the camp.

“The city of Brno has violated the agreement reached last week – we, together with the firemen, had to clean the area, the gravel had already been brought there to install a water tank, we had removed pallets and tables that were no longer needed. We have done everything so that we can continue to exploit the space with just one tent and the equipment we already have. However, the city authorities decided to dismantle the last tent and locked the gates to the camp,” – said Christina Studena from the “Grand Initiative” in her interview for the news outlet Romea.cz.

Along with other volunteers, Christina Studena helps Roma refugees and their children. According to the city authorities, the camp is currently dismantled, but will be reopened if necessary:

“The city has suspended the camp based on discussions with interested organizations such as ‘IQ Roma Servis’ and ‘Drom’. This was done after reaching a mutual agreement and the departure of most of the camp residents to Budapest or Prague,” said Filip Poňuchálek, a spokesman for the mayor’s office.

However, the volunteers do not believe the representatives of the city administration, because, in June, when the city station was filled with Roma, the authorities first provided them with places in unsuitable barracks in the Žydenice quarter. After living in them for several days, most of the Roma returned to the station. Then the mayor’s office set up several tents for them near the station. According to the volunteers, these measures were completely insufficient: at the time there were about 80 people among the refugees – women, including those in late pregnancy, and children, including babies. Those who could not fit in the tents slept under tables on the ground. Member of the Government Council for Roma Minority Affairs, Tomasz Schuka, said at the time that “representatives of the Brno municipality reject Roma women and their children fleeing the war in Ukraine. For them, they are just consumers of social goods and violators of public order.”

“Based on our previous experience with the city authorities, we do not believe they will do what they say. We are concerned that it will no longer be possible to help these people in a well-organised manner and provide at least a basic level of security. The strategy of the city of Brno is to ensure the comfort of the local citizens, and not to help these people in a difficult life situation,” said volunteer Kristina Studena.

To protest the unequal distribution of aid between Roma and other refugees from Ukraine, about 50 people organised a rally in Brno in June. At the time, responding to the criticism coming from volunteers and human rights activists, the city’s vice mayor, Robert Kerndl, said that by refusing the initially offered housing, the Roma lost the right to benefits offered to other refugees:

“They are tourists – benefit hunters, and they have repeatedly made attempts to get here. Brno does not distinguish between Ukrainian refugees, it was a voluntary decision of these people not to use the housing. We would like to provide them with some support, but everything has its limits. We hope that these people will realise that they are not entitled to benefits and stop coming here,” Kerndl said.