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Amnesty International contacts Czech mayor over ghetto evictions

Ostrava-Přívoz, 6.8.2012 17:27, (ROMEA)

Representatives of the Building Works Authority inspected the state of the buildings in the ghetto on Přednádraží street in Ostrava-Přívoz once more today. Last Friday they ordered residents to vacate the buildings, but approximately 140 people have stayed put, many of them children. The authorities said the residents must realize they are living there at their own risk. Officials told the Czech Press Agency today that their next steps will be announced in the days to come.

News server Romea has spoken with a member of the civil society section of the Czech Government Inter-ministerial Commission for Romani Community Affairs, Lydia Poláčková, who was nominated to the Commission from the Moravian-Silesian Region and lives and works in Ostrava. She confirmed the news: "Yes, today staffers with the Building Works Authority inspected each building. Different information is going around, some people claim they recommended demolishing building no. 17 immediately, while others say they did not. According to the information I have received, the authorities should issue their definitive opinion on Wednesday. I am out in the field or otherwise in contact with the people who are remaining there, not just as a member of the Commission, but also on behalf of the Counseling Center for Citizenship, Civil and Human Rights (Poradna pro občanství, občanská a lidská práva). We are doing our best to provide psychological support to the residents there, trying to calm any panic or stress and to provide urgent assistance, just like everyone else involved." Poláčková also said enormous thanks are due to Mr Dušan Červeňák of Moravská Ostrava and Přívoz, the social worker who spent all of last week finding substitute accommodation for the residents who did move out.

"We can't influence the decision of the Building Works Authority, but we are doing our best to at least monitor the situation and make sure people's rights are not violated. The fact that some people want to remain in this locality, especially long-term residents who are financially solvent, cannot be overlooked. Some people, however, are concerned over what might happen next and have decided to move out. Those who have been properly paying rent here are complaining that they don't want to be tarred with the same brush as those who are in debt," Poláčková told news server Romea.

Residents of the buildings repaired some of the flaws in the buildings pointed out by the authorities over the weekend. They are doing their best to convince the authorities to change their decision. "I do not believe the authorities will change their decision. I believe they are going to insist that their evaluation is accurate. However, we have decided to fight on, come what may. We will probably all go move into the town hall if they evict us, we have no other choice," said resident Iveta Horvátová, who is a member of the new self-administration the ghetto residents have created.

"The decision to evict the residents is still in place," said Jana Pondělíčková, spokesperson for the Municipal Department of Moravská Ostrava and Přívoz. The head of the Building Works Authority, Jiří Švarc, said everyone remaining in the buildings is doing so at their own risk. "They are responsible, together with the owner of the buildings, for putting their own health and lives at risk," Švarc said. He did not want to comment on what kind of steps the authorities would take next.

The buildings belong to the Domy Přednádraží firm, which is owned by entrepreneur Oldřich Roztočil. He has called on the remaining residents to vacate the buildings but they have refused.

The main deficiencies which made the authorities decide to condemn the buildings include gross structural damage, as well as damage to the ceilings and to the internal electricity distribution systems, which are unsafe. Sewer lines in the buildings have not worked for a long time. Water has not been running in the apartments for more than a week and is being supplied from a water tank.

"I have a 25-liter canister and a stockpot, we put the water for bathing and cooking in those. I keep water in the bathtub for cleaning, laundry, and washing our hands. Unfortunately that's how it is, but we can manage," said Horvátová, who is caring for a three-year-old grandson in addition to her own children. A total of 10 people live in her two-room apartment.

Horvátová does not consider her housing unsafe. "Do you think I would live here if something were endangering my children? Definitely not. The ceiling is not caving in here, no plaster is falling on our heads in my apartment, the children haven't broken their legs somehow. I really believe this housing is not a threat to our lives," Horvátová said.

Roztočil said the building inspectors have announced that his appeal will be delivered to the authorities today, but he doubts it will be of much avail. "There's not much to appeal against. They have described what is wrong with the buildings, but the only thing they have called on me to do is to prevent people from entering them. They haven't made a list of measures instructing me to repair the gutters, the roofs, etc.," the entrepreneur said.

Only two families living on Přednádraží street have indefinite leases. All the other tenants' leases have expired. Roztočil said that if the authorities would make an exception and permit the people to remain in the buildings, he would give them new leases. He said he could imagine leasing the apartments to the tenants with the very best payment records. "Given what they are doing at this moment, I would certainly give them another chance, I would conclude leases with them and extend them," the entrepreneur said.

Michal Bayer, spokesperson for the Ostrava Town Hall, said the organization Amnesty International has contacted the mayor for information on the how the situation on Přednádraží street will be resolved. "The letter came this afternoon, the mayor hasn't read it yet," Bayer said.

ČTK, Gwendolyn Albert, Czech Press Agency, jab, translated by Gwendolyn Albert
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