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Czech Government Human Rights Commissioner and Agency director reject Šluknov mayors' demands

Prague, 26.1.2012 20:00, (ROMEA)

Czech Government Human Rights Commissioner Monika Šimůnková and the director of the Czech Government Agency for Social Inclusion in Romani Localities, Martin Šimáček, have rejected the recent call by mayors in Šluknov district for the Agency to be abolished. "What we offered the mayors was not a fistful of money, nor was it fast, populist solutions, but a program which has done very well when tested in other towns, including Litvínov, where the situation two years ago was even more exacerbated [than the one in Šluknov district]. The implementation of such a program is demanding and it requires long-term effort, but it really could calm the situation in these towns. I am sorry the mayors have let the Agency do its work for so many long months before surprising us with such a radical declaration," Šimůnková said.

Šimůnková points out that the towns in the region which have problems are mostly those that have long neglected preventive work. On the other hand, other towns in Šluknov district that have designed projects to support education, employment, housing and social services, whether in collaboration with the Agency or independently, have managed to solve their problems and are enjoying calm situations on their territories.

"In Rumburk one year ago, the town councilors had sample project proposals for the provision of emergency shelters and social services on the table that had been developed by the Agency. We offered to design such projects together with them up to the phase of submitting them for funding and implementing them in the field. They indiscriminately rejected everything we had to offer," says Agency director Martin Šimáček. "Last September we reached an agreement with the town leadership that the town would establish a commission to design its own measures and projects. We started discussing a project proposal to establish social enterprises to increase employment, as well as other measures. To this day, despite our repeated urgings, their commission still hasn't been established."

At the time of the greatest unrest in the area last year, Šimáček was involved in facilitating public meetings there. "It was not pleasant, people were angry that the situation in their town is unsatisfactory. We backed the town leadership. We constructively collected their demands and then over the course of a month and a half we designed a plan for 10 basic measures in a working group that involved the town leadership, nonprofits, and the police. Originally, the town leadership was very enthusiastic about the proposal, last October we agreed the town would allocate staffers to start designing the projects with us, projects on building a drop-in club, creating social enterprises, ensuring children's preschool attendance, and repairing the residential hotels. They promised the plan would be approved by the town council and the town hall. Just yesterday I saw the mayor at a meeting and he did not indicate to me that there would be any change of plans. Now they're striking below the belt," Šimáček said. "We wanted to be constructive even though the town doesn't exactly have a clean conscience here. For 10 years the town has been running overpriced residential hotels into which it has moved dozens of families without any other prospects. We could have indulged in cheap criticism of them, but we chose to behave as their partners and seek a solution. We designed a transparent housing model that would reduce the number of residential hotels and improve order at them, both inside them and in their neighborhoods."

Šimůnková and Šimáček recently invited the mayors of Šluknov district to attend a seminar on the Government Strategy for the Fight Against Social Exclusion which will take place on 2 February at the Office of the Government in Prague. "I am sorry that some mayors have not understood the Strategy. It is a very comprehensive, very high-quality government material for support to those regions that are addressing the problems of excluded localities. The measures in the Strategy are meant to bring support to all citizens, it has nothing whatsoever to do with privileging Romani people," Šimůnková emphasizes.

The Strategy was approved by the Czech Government in September and ministries have begun to implement its various measures. The text of the Strategy is available (in Czech only) at www.socialni-zaclenovani.cz.

"Every year we produce an annual report on our activities and our financing which we submit to the Government and the public. It is available on our website," Šimáček says.

The Agency for Social Inclusion in Romani Localities currently works in 26 localities of the Czech Republic with a budget of roughly CZK 25 million. Approximately half of its funding comes from the state budget, while the rest comes from EU-funded projects. Detailed reports on the Agency's activities in the localities are also available (in Czech only) at www.socialni-zaclenovani.cz.

ČTK, Gwendolyn Albert, tisková zpráva, Press release of the Czech Government Agency for Social Inclusion in Romani Localities, translated by Gwendolyn Albert
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