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Roma Luma leaders: Romani refugees from Ukraine are discriminated in the Czech Republic. Regional Governors and ombudsman: These are economic migrants

27.4.2022 6:46
Roma Luma party co-chairs Emil Zajac and Marco Cavali on the 360° program on CNN Prima News. (April 2022)  (PHOTO: CNN Prima News)
Roma Luma party co-chairs Emil Zajac and Marco Cavali on the 360° program on CNN Prima News. (April 2022) (PHOTO: CNN Prima News)

According to Emil Zajac and Marc Cavali, the co-chairs of the Roma Luma political party, Romani refugees from Ukraine are being discriminated against and segregated in the Czech Republic. Governor of the Pardubice Region Martin Netolický (Czech Social Democratic Party - ČSSD), Governor of the South Bohemian Region Martin Kuba (Civic Democratic Party - ODS) and Czech Public Defender of Rights (ombudsman) Stanislav Křeček all refused to describe what is happening as discrimination. 

In addition, the governors and the ombudsman claim Romani refugees from Ukraine are abusing the current situation, calling them "economic migrants". The exchange of views was broadcast by CNN Prima News on its 360° program.

"We reject this division into Roma and non-Roma, these are all refugees fleeing the war, but from the very beginning what is done here is segregation and separation. I believe this is wrong, these people are in unsatisfactory conditions," Zajac said on the program.

According to Cavali, the team of the Roma Luma political party has monitored the situation at the Prague Regional Assistance Center for Aid to Ukraine (KACPU). "We sensed that refugees were being separated on the spot, but everybody pretends they are not," Cavali said on the show.

Křeček: These are economic migrants, not refugees from the war 

Ombudsman Křeček described the Romani refugees from Ukraine as "economic migrants". "I am afraid that the Government is taking quite a gamble on the public opinion of the citizens here," he literally said. 

"It is making the same mistakes it made on migration a few months ago, when it tried to convince us these were wartime refugees even though everybody knew they were economic migrants and not wartime refugees. The people who came here from Hungary themselves say they did so because somebody told them they would be better off here," the ombudsman literally said. 

"So please, do not tell the citizens that they are wartime refugees," Křeček literally said. However, according to the findings of news server Romea.cz, the people at issue are definitely not refugees "from Hungary". 

A small number of Romani refugees from Ukraine have dual citizenship, i.e., they have both a Ukrainian and a Hungarian passport, but before Russia invaded Ukraine, they lived and resided in Ukraine. Křeček also warned against the emergence of more socially excluded localities due to Romani refugees from Ukraine staying in the Czech Republic.

Kuba: The regions do not have the capacity to solve the problem of "inadaptables", Romani nonprofits have to deal with it

South Bohemian Governor Kuba of the governing ODS party refused to acknowledge refugees are being separated by Czech officials according to their skin color and emphasized that the people under discussion are "inadaptables". He also reiterated that the regions do not have the capacity to address these issues and attacked Romani non-profit organizations.

"We repeatedly say the regions do not have the capacity for this, that it is simply impossible, and it is not possible without the involvement of Romani initiatives, they have to communicate with those people, they must provide some specific care, because quite frankly, 50 such people take up the entire team at the KACPU and the whole process costs much more energy and time," said Kuba.

The attack on nonprofit organizations was then repeated by the moderator of the 360° program, who claimed Romani nonprofit organizations are not helping these refugees sufficiently. Ombudsman Křeček also attacked nonprofit organizations, claiming Romani organizations generally do too little to integrate Czech Roma, let alone manage the integration of Ukrainian Roma.

At the same time, since the beginning of the refugee crisis, Romani nonprofit organizations, without financial support from the Czech state beyond that provided for the services they offered before the war, have provided assistance to more than half of the Romani refugees from Ukraine in the country. Zajac defended the Romani nonprofit organizations and asked if any collaboration had been offered to them, recalling that it was just this week that a meeting was held between Czech Interior Minister Vít Rakušan and the Romani nonprofit organizations on this issue.

Netolický: The Roma are arriving from areas where no battles are underway

Governor of the Pardubice Region Martin Netolický from the ČSSD, which is not in the governing coalition, stated that while on the one hand nobody wants to discriminate against anybody else, on the other hand the Roma are coming from an area where there "is no war", an allegation he reiterated several times. "If I am not mistaken, there is no dramatic conflict in Transcarpathia," Netolický said, adding that in the case of the Roma from that area, their arrival in the Czech Republic is "benefit tourism".

Cyril Koky, a specialist on national minorities at the Central Bohemian Regional Authority, responded through a Facebook post to Netolický's words about the situation in the Transcarpathian Region and the war. "In this context, I would like to point out that Act No. 65/2022 Coll., the so-called Lex Ukraine, has already come into force and introduces temporary protection for Ukrainian citizens fleeing the armed conflict in Ukraine and some other categories of persons. I understand that the Governor is saying refugees are coming to the Czech Republic from areas where there is no fighting. However, the law does not say anything about that," said Koky.

Cavali: It is impudence to select refugees according to the area of Ukraine from which they are fleeing

For his part, Cavali described the statements of Governor Netolický as the audacity to pick and choose refugees according to whether they are from an area of Ukraine that is or is not "at war". "These people, like all other Ukrainians, are fleeing their war-torn country," his party colleague Zajac said.

"It is impossible to say that they came here to abuse social benefits," Zajac added. Cavali and Zajac also rejected Kuba's rhetoric and his use of the word "inadaptable". 

"If the state expected that about 300 000 refugees from Ukraine would come here, then it also had to reckon with the fact that there could be Romani people among them. If it is not a problem to provide translation into Ukrainian, then it should not be a problem to provide translation from Hungarian," the Roma Luma co-chair responded to the constantly repeated arguments of the other politicians that some Romani refugees speak only Hungarian.

"They can label people as 'inadaptable' inside of an hour without even knowing which family they come from," Cavali said, adding that is unacceptable to label somebody "inadaptable" who has been given no other option by the state than to live in a publicly-funded tent for five days with nowhere to bathe. "I am not surprised that Ukrainians arriving here want to leave once they find out what the situation is in the Czech Republic," he said. 

"These people are not guaranteed safety here," Cavali said. Governors Kuba and Netolický strongly rejected that statement and called it unfair.

ryz, translated by Gwendolyn Albert
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Discrimination, Housing, Immigration, Racism, Ukraine



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