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May 24, 2022



Czech activist: Refuting the half-truths, rumors and untruths spreading about the Romani mothers and children fleeing Russia's war on Ukraine

12.5.2022 12:08
Romani refugees from Ukraine at the main railway station in Prague, Czech Republic - May 2022 (PHOTO: Lukáš Cirok)
Romani refugees from Ukraine at the main railway station in Prague, Czech Republic - May 2022 (PHOTO: Lukáš Cirok)

In recent weeks, we at the Konexe organization have encountered many half-truths, hoaxes and untruths that are spreading about refugees from Russia's war on Ukraine - to be precise, about Romani children and their mothers seeking a safe haven from the war. These half-truths, rumors and untruths are being spread by official representatives of the Czech Republic, such as the President, the Interior Minister, and some governors and local politicians, and we would like to set the record straight on at least some of them. 

Half-truth #1: The Romani refugees Ukraine are actually economic migrants from Hungary

Some of the refugees from Ukraine's western regions do have dual citizenship, Hungarian and Ukrainian. Years ago, Orbán's regime sent recruiters to the neighboring countries where Hungary has made territorial demands (i.e., "Great Hungary"), to seek allegedly "lost" members of the ethnic Hungarian minority in those territories. 

Whoever was persuaded to sign a paper stating that he or she feels himself or herself to be Hungarian was immediately given Hungarian citizenship. The recruiters managed to persuade some Roma to sign. 

Of these "citizens of Hungary" who are Romani, the vast majority have no ties to Hungary, may never have even been to Hungary, and this citizenship is a formality, purely. Aid or protection for them in Hungary is highly unlikely under Orbán. 

In the Czech Republic, we at Konexe believe (although we cannot prove it yet) that it is just dark-skinned refugees who are being vetted for dual citizenship. As far as we are aware, background checks are not being conducted on Ukrainians who are "white" - nobody here is curious to check up on whether they, too, have dual citizenship.  

Half-truth #2: Dual Hungarian/Ukrainian citizens are not entitled to aid and protection

In the other countries to which such refugees are heading, the process involves verifying that the person did actually live in Ukraine before the war, did have his or her permanent residence there, and is actually on the run from the war. If so, these countries will aid these refugees and their dual citizenship is a formality that is not an obstacle.

Half-truth #3:  Romani refugees from Ukraine arrive in big groups - so large that they cannot be accommodated in housing of standard size

Such groups do actually appear here, but not frequently. Usually, if there is a bigger group of Romani people, it means just a few families are traveling together, and it is easy for the group to split up into those families to be accommodated in apartment units that are common to them.

Just walk along the halls of the Prague railway station, where hundreds of Romani refugee children and their mothers from Ukraine have been stuck - big groups here are rarely seen, on the contrary, we meet many mothers with anywhere between one and four children each, or just Romani women on their own. This deliberately-distributed rumor about giant groups that are indivisible serves as an excuse for the authorities to not even attempt to find housing that is standard to offer Romani refugees from Ukraine.

Half-truth #4: Romani refugees reject the accommodation that has been allocated to them by the state

In our experience, this "accommodation" is in centers for detainees, that is what is especially being offered to Romani refugees from Ukraine. These facilities are like prisons - barbed wire, bars on the windows, high fences, located in places that are remote.

Actually, it is these facilities that are so like prisons which are the ones the Romani refugees are rejecting. They do not want to live in them because for children they are completely unsuitable, and from a human perspective it is quite understandable that they would not want such "accommodation" in such environments.

Half-truth #5:  Romani refugees come to the Czech Republic from a part of Ukraine where the war is not being waged

Bombardment and sniper fire is currently happening in all regions of Ukraine, including the west. The Romani refugees whom we have aided are from all over Ukraine - Donbas, Kharkiv, Mariupol, Odesa, the western regions and Zaporizhzhia.

Some of the Romani refugees whom we have aided fled from the front line, literally. It is as if we in the Czech Republic do not realize the partners and spouses of these Romani refugees are fighting the Russian aggression in Ukraine with weapons in their hands to save Europe, not just Ukraine itself.

Is the antigypsyism in the Czech Republic, as well as the institutional racism that is systemic, so strong that we are unable to aid the Romani refugees from Russia's war on Ukraine the same way we have assisted those whose skin is white? Apparently so, all evidence so far suggests that is the case.

Miroslav Brož, translated by Gwendolyn Albert
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