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August 11, 2022



Volunteers in Czech Republic's second-largest city form initiative to aid destitute, homeless Romani women from Ukraine after the city and the state have failed them

10.6.2022 11:51
A City of Brno official providing
A City of Brno official providing "aid" to the children and women of Romani origin from Ukraine, with the assistance of municipal police. (2022) (PHOTO: Iniciativa Grand)

In Brno, a volunteer effort called the Grand Initiative (Initiativa Grand) has formed to help destitute, homeless Romani refugees from Ukraine because these members of civil society can no longer stand idly by as city officials make the catastrophic situation worse through their lack of action. The initiative reports that municipal representatives have been contemptuously, untruthfully describing the group of Romani refugee women from Ukraine as people who are "used to" living on lawns outdoors and as having no needs.

“We completely reject these statements from the city and their racist subtext. The people in the refugee camp are dealing with different situations and each is at a different stage of the registration process. Since nobody is even bothering to counsel these women, the claim cannot be made that they have just come here for 'benefits'. These statements from the City of Brno are a brutal assault on these people seeking refuge, and we believe the City of Brno has to apologize,” volunteer Anna Demčuk said in a press release yesterday, published here by news server in full translation.

Grand Initiative Press Release

After several weeks during which these children and women of Romani origin who are fleeing the war slept at the railway station, the City of Brno has decided to create a refugee camp that is temporary. Tents without flooring that leak in the rain, portable toilets that are not being emptied, a cistern of drinking water, but nowhere to boil it. These people are there without food, medicine, or any way to meet their basic hygienic needs, dependent solely on aid provided by volunteers. The Grand Initiative has become involved to assist them because the situation of these children and women is already unsustainable.

“We are an informal, voluntary association of people who can no longer ignore the situation of these families of refugees who have been living in the railway station without shelter and who have subsequently been moved into the refugee camp. Pregnant women, young children and seniors are living there in catastrophic conditions while the City of Brno and the institutions of the state show no willingness to comprehensively resolve this situation or provide aid,” says volunteer Kristina Studená.

The political will of the authorities is illustrated by the statements made by city representatives when, at a press conference on the day the refugee camp was opened, they contemptuously and untruthfully described this group of women. They alleged this group is homogenous, that they are accustomed to living on lawns outdoors, and that they have no other needs. However, the collaboration between our volunteers and these women is demonstrating that they need aid with arranging for their basic personal hygiene, a place to sleep, food and health care. Despite the police having stated that these refugees' stay here has not increased crime at all, their relocation has been explained as necessary for the comfort and safety of Brno residents, who have been worried by their presence. 

In the last few days it has been a volunteer team and other associations who have provided basic food, medicine and other necessities for these children and women. The tents that were built leak and do not have flooring. When it rains, children were lying on the ground in puddles. The volunteers at least have equipped the tents with makeshift pallets, and other donors have provided blankets and mattresses. However, the hygienic situation there, from the drinking water to the portable toilets, is also dismal.

Volunteer Robert Vlček comments as follows: “For example, no one has emptied the portable toilets since Friday, when the 'tent city' was established. Already on Tuesday they were virtually full, and when I called the head of the Social Department, Mr. Polák, on Wednesday and warned him of the situation, he replied that the toilets are emptied according to a schedule and asked why we were calling him. Only after insisting that this is just worsening the unfortunate conditions for maintaining personal hygiene there did he say he would ensure they would be emptied by Thursday.”

The insensitive approach taken by employees of the local Social Department is illustrated by the experience of another volunteer, Václav Pecl: “On Wednesday, 8 June, several officials arrived with about six police officers. I was surprised that they were not as interested in the dismal situation of the families of refugees there as they were in why we were providing them aid as volunteers. Subsequently, with the assistance of the police, they separated us from the people in the 'tent city' and prevented us from approaching them while they were dealing with them. Then several of the refugee families told me that without even investigating who they were, the officials told them that they would not be receiving any benefits or other help and that if they do not leave their present location, their children could be taken away from them.”

Our volunteers do not know exactly what the officials told the refugees. However, the fact is that after the officials visited, several families, for fear that their children would be taken away from them, have left the little 'tent city'. Their fate is unknown to our volunteers.

ryz, translated by Gwendolyn Albert
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