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Czech Inclusion Agency stops working in town to protest segregation

Prague, 3.2.2011 16:52, (ROMEA)
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The Czech Government Agency for Social Inclusion in Roma Localities will be extending its work through the end of 2010 in six of 13 pilot localities: Břeclav, Cheb, Litvínov, Most, Ústí nad Labem and the Šluknovsko district. The agency is leaving the town of Holešov altogether to protest the segregation in housing that has been implemented by the town leadership there. Members of the Agency's Monitoring Committee made the decision yesterday.

The three-year cooperation agreements with the other towns will end as originally agreed on 30 June 2011. Holešov is the exception. The Monitoring Committee decided the Agency should leave the locality immediately and express its disagreement with the segregation.

"We have been evaluating our work in all of the pilot localities since October. We agreed that in six of them it is important to continue the activities and complete our work there," Agency director Martin Šimáček explained.

Work on local partnerships was initiated in all of the pilot localities at the end of 2008 and early 2009. The partnerships include representatives from labor offices, nonprofits, police, schools, town halls and others involved in social inclusion. The local partnerships prepare strategic social inclusion plans which are then used to draft project requests to fund specific measures for improving the situation in the locality.

"Despite the problems with which we are all familiar, the work of the Agency in the pilot localities has produced many concrete results from the very beginning. Together with our partners we have collaborated on submitting more than 130 projects which will help these towns and villages and the residents of socially excluded localities themselves to set up community centers, drop-in facilities and shelters and to finance their operations for several years, as well as providing services that support education, such as funding for teaching assistants in the schools. The projects also support employment, for example through employment counseling or social businesses. Dozens of projects are already being implemented and many others are waiting to be approved,“ Šimáček described.

Other successful measures include the introduction of a transparent housing allocation system in the town of Litvínov, pre-professional preparation for students transitioning from primary to middle schools, and a guarantee that 10 % of all jobs resulting from public tenders issued by the town of Most will be filled by the long-term unemployed. In the Jesenicko district, a network of social service centers has been set up.

"There are many examples of good practice from our work in the pilot localities and we will continue to transfer these good practices not only to other towns and villages, but also to the state administrative level by commenting on legislation and preparing strategic documents for the government," Šimáček said. "In Cheb, Litvínov, Most, and the Šluknovsko district we are continuing our work even though the situation in those localities has already improved significantly. During the next two years, we want to complete projects there that stand a chance of become models for other towns in the Czech Republic. These primarily concern social businesses, transparent housing allocation systems, and unique projects that combine education and employment. In Břeclav and Ústí nad Labem we have not yet completed this work, but an agreement with the town leaderships on the need for more cooperation will give us the opportunity to see it through."

The Agency will end its activity in six localities at the end of June. "We are leaving some towns because while we have significantly contributed to improving the situations there, we have not completely solved the problems. We do not have enough support from the town leadership, and without it we basically cannot work effectively," Šimáček said. "I regret that we must leave Přerov, where the Agency and its partners have succeeded in designing and implementing very successful projects. We are leaving behind a social business that is up and running. The town hall, however, has adopted a resolution putting a stop to any future collaboration."

Broumov is another town the Agency is leaving. "We are leaving Broumov because the work there was successful. By June we will have completed the design and start-up of three central projects. We are counting on one of of the projects to fund the position of an inclusion coordinator who will continue to develop and direct the projects with our support. Responsibility for the projects, however, will remain with the town leadership and its partners," Šimáček says.The members of the Agency's Monitoring Committee have decided to immediately halt its activities in Holešov. "The Holešov town leadership is engaged in the practice of segregation instead of integration and we want to give a clear signal both to them and to other towns that such an approach is not compatible with the work of the Agency," said Czeslaw Walek, executive director of the Human Rights Section at the Office of the Czech Government. The Monitoring Committee's decision was based on the fact that the Holešov town hall evicted more than 70 residents from their housing on Školní street into temporary "container" housing on the outskirts of town.

Currently the Agency is holding a tender for other localities interested in cooperating with it this year. The Monitoring Committee will select the new localities in April and local consultants will start their work in early July.

Studies have shown that roughly 80 000 people live in social exclusion in the Czech Republic. In a report issued last year, the World Bank said problems related to social exclusion cost the Czech Republic about CZK 16 billion annually.

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