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August 16, 2022



Czech volunteers say second-largest city has broken its agreement by closing camp used by Romani refugees from Ukraine near Grand Hotel

25.7.2022 7:19
Romani children and their mothers fleeing Russia's aggression against Ukraine in Brno, Czech Republic. (2022) (PHOTO: Facebook page of the Native and Indigenous Film Festival)
Romani children and their mothers fleeing Russia's aggression against Ukraine in Brno, Czech Republic. (2022) (PHOTO: Facebook page of the Native and Indigenous Film Festival)

Brno City Hall has closed the temporary camp for refugees from Ukraine near Benešova Street where Romani refugees have been dwelling. According to estimates as many as 300 people have used the camp, many of whom have repeatedly returned there for assistance. 

The city erected tents at that spot after Romani refugees from Ukraine began gathering near its main railway station. According to volunteers from the Grand Initiative (Initiativa Grand), the city has now broken an agreement reached last week.

Volunteers:  City representatives have broken the agreement, we no longer trust them

"The City of Brno has broken an agreement reached last week - we were supposed to clean up the space together with the firefighters, gravel had been brought there for the water tank, we removed pallets and tables that were no longer necessary. We did all of that to make it possible to keep running the space with just one tent and basic equipment," Kristina Studená of the Grand Initiative, which has been aiding Romani refugees and their children there along with others, told news server yesterday.   

"On Thursday, though, the city dismantled that last tent and locked the gate to the space," Studená said. According to the city, while the gate to the area is currently closed, the portable toilets will remain in place and new equipment will be brought there in case of need. 

The volunteers, however, do not believe city representatives. "On the basis of our previous experience collaborating with the city as volunteers, we do not believe they will do what they say," Studená said.

"On the contrary, we are concerned that the number of attacks on the Romani women arriving here will grow. We have witnessed many situations of Romani women facing discrimination or open aggression, e.g., from the security guards at the main railway station," the volunteer said. 

"We are concerned that it will no longer be possible to aid these people in a coordinated way and to arrange at least basic security for them. The City of Brno's strategy is to arrange for the comfort of native residents instead of aiding these people with their difficult life situations," she said, recalling previous statements made by Mayor of Brno Markéta Vaňková and the head of the local social work department about the Romani refugees.

Brno:  We can open the site at any time

The Brno newsroom of public broadcaster Czech Television has reported that the Romani refugees from Ukraine have left the space and that most of them have traveled to either Budapest or Prague. "The city has interrupted those operations on the basis of discussions with interested organizations such as IQ Roma servis and Drom. This was done after reaching mutual agreement on this approach with regard to the current minimal use of the space," city hall spokesperson Filip Poňuchálek said.  

According to the city spokesperson, it will be possible to open and operate the space at any time and, in case of need, the city will continue to provide advice to refugees in coordination with local NGOs IQ Roma servis and the Drom Romani Center. The space, according to him, had served as an "information point".

Romani children and women from Ukraine in Brno without aid from the city, the region or the state

The Romani refugees from Ukraine and their children ended up in Brno at the railway station at the close of May and start of June without any aid. The South Moravian Regional Authority at the time explained that it had offered them accommodation which they had allegedly refused.

The city then offered these refugees an opportunity to spend several nights in a barracks in the Židenice quarter. Over time, however, the refugees returned to the main railway station.

City Hall then erected some tents for them near the railway station. However, those arrangements were absolutely inadequate.

As many as 80 children and their mothers, including infants and women in advanced stages of pregnancy, were suddenly expected to spend the night in the small outdoor space. Those who could not fit into the tents slept beneath tables on the ground.

The unwillingness of the City of Brno to aid the Romani refugees has become the target of sharp criticism by human rights activists who have drawn attention to the different approach being taken toward Romani refugees and white refugees from Ukraine. Roughly 50 people demonstrated in Brno in June to warn of the poor conditions for the Romani refugees.

Speaking before local assembly members, the protesters pointed out that a situation in which Romani children and their mothers sleep on the ground while white refugees sleep in emergency facilities and residential hotels is a human rights violation and is inhumane. Vice Mayor Robert Kerndl (Civic Democratic Party - ODS) said at the time that by refusing the accommodation that had initially been offered, the refugees had lost their entitlement to the benefits being offered to other refugees and verbally attacked the Romani women from Ukraine.

"They are welfare tourists and they have been repeatedly making attempts to get into the system here. Brno draws no distinctions among the Ukrainians, it was the free decision of those persons not to take advantage of the accommodation. We would like to provide some support, but everything has its limits. We hope these people understand they are not entitled to benefits and stop coming here," Kerndl said.

ČTK, Zdeněk Ryšavý, translated by Gwendolyn Albert
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