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Czech Republic: Romani residents of Vsetín emigrating to UK for work

Vsetín, 12.11.2011 2:55, (ROMEA)

Many Romani people living in the town of Vsetín have decided to move to England for work, where they hope to make enough money to pay off their debts. Romani residents say no one in Vsetín will employ them and that working abroad is their only option. Almost 130 members of the Romani community have already emigrated to England and more than 100 more are preparing to do so.

"The town of Vsetín has long wrestled with the problem of getting tenants in municipally-run accommodation to pay for rent and services as well as local fees. Court proceedings to evict tenants often drag on, causing the amount of back rent owed to rise. This is one reason why Romani families are moving to England in an effort to make enough money to pay off their debts," Jana Čadová writes on the town's website.

In July, the town hall concluded six-month lease agreements with current rent defaulters. "Those lease contracts include a collections rider whereby tenants pledge to leave the apartment and turn it over to the landlord and the authorized collections agent by five days at the latest from the date on which they fail to pay the rent. Payment agreements were also concluded with respect to any amounts owed on back rent for properties in which they previously resided, and the minimum amount of that payment is CZK 1 000 monthly," explained Květoslava Othová, the town's first vice-mayor.

One condition for concluding the next six-month lease (i.e., as of 1 January 2012) will be that the tenants will have properly paid off their debts with respect to back rent owed for previous locations where they have resided and will have made formal arrangements with respect to paying off any other fees or fines owed the municipality by 30 September 2011. At the same time, the tenants must have paid off any debts owed for their current housing and have not incurred new debts.

"Tenants who are evicted from municipal apartments usually stop paying the back rent they still owe. Given that this is a low-income group of citizens, those debts become practically uncollectable. For that reason, an appropriate solution is to negotiate a payment plan with them," Othová said, adding: "Currently most of these families are making an effort to address their situations, which is one reason some families are emigrating for work to pay off their debts. Romani people in our region find it very hard to get jobs. Some of them are taking advantage of their right to freedom of movement and are emigrating to England, where it is far easier for them to find both employment and housing."

The Vsetín town hall has mapped the situation and says as many as 30 families have already left town. "Field social workers estimate that in the next few weeks another 21 families could leave - 113 people total (48 adults and 65 children). These are Romani families who live all over town," says the town hall's press release. "At the time they were getting ready to move, almost all of the families (approximately 85 %) were made aware of the potential risks of moving by field social workers, who also familiarized them with what they should make sure they take care of should they decide to emigrate," the press release reads.

Petr Tulija, the chair of the Democratic Alliance of Roma in the Czech Republic (Demokratické aliance Romů České republiky), says leaving for Great Britain is no solution. "They are exploring every option for taking care of their families. Fleeing to England for work, however, is just a temporary solution," Tulija told news server iDNES.cz. Tulija believes that even if these people do find work abroad, the situation will repeat itself once they return to the Czech Republic: They won't find work and will be without money. "It's easy to condemn Romani people for not working and drawing welfare, but it's somehow difficult to arrange employment for them," Tulija points out. In his view, everyone - municipaliteis, nonprofits, politicians and the Roma themselves - should be doing their best to create local job opportunities. "The situation has not improved for 20 years, rather, it's reaching a low point. A system of conditions needs to be created that will make hiring Romani people worth a company's while," Tulija told iDNES.cz.

Most of the Romani families in Vsetín are doing their best to regularly pay off their back debts to the town on time because they are greatly concerned they might lose their housing and are aware that other rentals would be hard to find. "As of 30 September, most tenants have done their best to pay off what they owe for back rent, to make their payments and to draw up payment plans with our financial department. Nevertheless, some families did not manage to pay off their entire debt by the deadline but did so during the first half of October. Some families, unfortunately, did not take the situation very seriously and did not start paying back their debts until mid-October. Field social workers have been regularly speaking with those people and warning them of their situation and the consequences of not paying off their debts on time. There are also currently seven families who have completely resigned themselves to those consequences," Othová said.

According to the town hall, field social workers have intensively dedicated themselves to the issue of the Romani families' indebtedness, visiting them regularly, informing them of their obligations and the consequences of failing to meet them, and helping them arrange all matters concerning the negotiation of payment plans. "They keep detailed records of their work. The problems are addressed in collaboration with other entities working with the Romani community at regular meetings with the legal department, the financial department, real estate agents, the housing department and the welfare department. Most of these families are making an effort to find work and live a normal life," the town hall's press release concludes.

Gwendolyn Albert, Zdeněk Ryšavý, ryz, Mediafax, iDNES.cz, Town of Vsetín, translated by Gwendolyn Albert
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