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Romani evictees seek compensation from town, Czech Supreme Court to review case

9.11.2015 4:38
The exit from one of  the
The exit from one of the "Čunek houses" destroyed by a fire on 31 March 2015. (Source: pozary.cz)

The case of the Romani residents of Vsetín who were removed from its territory and relocated to villages outside of the Zlín Region nine years ago will be addressed by the Czech Supreme Court. The Romani plaintiffs believe the town violated their fundamental human rights by removing them.

Their lawsuit has been ruled on three times by the Ostrava Regional Court, which has repeatedly thrown it out. Those lower court verdicts have always been overturned by the High Court in Olomouc.

According to former Mayor and current Senator Jiří Čunek (Christian Democrats - KDU-ČSL), the town of Vsetín appealed that High Court decision to the Supreme Court last month, which will begin reviewing the case in a few months. The Romani residents claim they were forcibly "deported" from Vsetín.

They are also criticizing the fact that they were forced by employees of the local authority to sign papers they never even had the opportunity to read relating to the purchase by them of real estate and that they were unable to freely choose the place to which they would move with their families. The properties where they ended up were absolutely unfit for human habitation.

The Romani residents are seeking compensation of CZK 5.2 million from the town. According to Čunek, however, these were families who were not paying their rent and whose eviction was court-ordered, and the town would have been within its rights to simply turn them out onto the street.

"We aided them, and now we're supposed to pay them damages. I am concerned that on the basis of this absurd, unjust trial, the town of Vsetín will not extend the leases of the Romani families who were involved in the removals back then and the only address I'll be able to recommend to them for addressing their housing is the High Court in Olomouc," Čunek said.

A case for the Public Defender of Rights 

Vsetín evicted the Roma from a dilapidated apartment building in the town center in 2006. The town hall bought old houses in the Jeseniky and Prostějov districts (in an entirely different region), moved the evicted tenants into them, and is now requiring them to pay the town back for the real estate over the next 20 years.

A total of 40 Romani families were removed by the town to its periphery and housed in apartment units made out of metal containers. Some of them were moved by the town hall into the dilapidated houses in the villages in the Jeseniky and Prostějov districts.

Three families who were not paying rent were removed into old houses in the villages of Stará Červená Voda, Vidnava and Vlčice. The Romani people living in those houses are paying them off as interest-free loans.

Čunek later moved other Romani tenants out of Vsetín, this time into the Prostějov district, into the villages of Čechy pod Kosířem a Dřevnovice. These were two separate families with a total of 26 members.

This case of eviction has been reviewed by almost 10 police, the state attorney, and then-Public Defender of Rights Otakar Motejl. While according to the police officers Čunek did not break the law by evicting the tenants, Motejl said the town hall did make an error and violated the Romani tenants' rights to respect for their family and private life, and the Human Rights Committee of the Czech Senate subsequently supported his stance on the incident.

Kids will go to a home

Ms Jolana Tulejová expressed her views in 2006 to iDNES.cz of the way the entire removal occurred, as did other evictees. "They scared us by saying we would end up on the street and kids would go to a home," she said.

Other Romani evictees claim Čunek gave them an unequivocal choice:  Either they would end up on the street and lose their welfare, or they would be provided a loan with which to buy a single-family home somewhere. The usual practice for acquiring the properties included a broker masquerading as a prospective cottager who visited the single-family homes ultimately intended for the Roma who pretended to be interested in buying them.

"If I had known he was just going to resell it, I would never have signed the contract. It's an old, small building that needs repairs. Eleven people can't even fit in it," Olga Juklová, one of the original owners of the properties at issue, told the Czech daily Mf DNES at the time.

She sold her single-family home through the Prostějov-based office Real Spektrum for CZK 320 000. The Tulej couple is now paying CZK 460 000 for it.

A clean town

The Romani evictees were transported to Jeseniky during the night and undercover, which was resented not just by the mayors of the municipalities affected, but also by many human rights activists. Famous director Břetislav Rychlík was outraged by Čunek's remarks on a TV Nova program where he said he was "just cleansing the town of its ulcers".  

adg, ČTK, translated by Gwendolyn Albert
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Tags:  

Čunek útočí na Romy, Housing, Jesenicko, Olomouc, Ostrava, Prostějov, Romani people, Vsetín



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