Europe's human rights watchdog disturbed by Czech Republic's segregated schools and treatment of asylum-seekers
The Czech Republic has not yet managed to eradicate the reprehensible segregation of Romani children in its schools - despite its integration strategy many educational institutions continue to exist that are "Roma-only" where children are taught according to reduced curricula. The Council of Europe has published this criticism in a recent report.
"Continued discrimination of Roma, in particular of Roma children, is a serious concern," Council of Europe Secretary General Thorbjørn Jagland said in a press release. The Romani population of the country of 10.5 million is estimated to be around 300,000 people.
The authors of the report acknowledge that the Czech Republic has achieved a certain degree of progress in combating racism, praising Prague for adopting anti-discrimination legislation and for the fact that the authorities are managing to combat extremists. "While there are positive development trends such as the adoption of anti-discrimination laws and strategies, concerns persist due to the lack of powers granted to the Public Defender of Rights to effectively combat racial discrimination and to resolve the persistent problem of the segregation of Romani children in education and housing access," said Christian Ahlund, the chair of the European Commission on Racism and Intolerance (ECRI), the Council of Europe body that produced the report.
ECRI found that anti-Romani remarks are still being made by politicians in the Czech Republic and that recently the number of hateful remarks about immigrants and Muslims has increased in the country. Czech Police are said to frequently ignore their obligations by failing to initiate criminal prosecutions of those who incite hatred on an ethnic, national or racist basis.
The report reviews the situation in the Czech Republic in the five years since 2009 and mentions how concerned ECRI was by the number of anti-Romani demonstrations organized by extremist right-wing groups in 2013. The Council of Europe representatives devote a great deal of space in the report to the schools, which in their view are an area where the Czech authorities are failing to eradicate discrimination, especially of Romani pupils.
"ECRI is concerned that there are still many 'Roma-only' schools where education is provided according to reduced curriculum and at a lower level of quality. Moreover, no concrete, measurable aims have been established for transferring Romani children from the practical to the mainstream schools and nothing of the sort is happening in practice," the report reads.
According to the Council of Europe, the Roma suffer from prejudice on the labor market as well and have a more difficult time accessing housing because of their ethnic origin. ECRI has given the Czech Republic a series of recommendations and will evaluate whether the country fulfills them in the coming years.
ECRI is urging, among other things, the introduction of at least one compulsory year of free preschool care for all children prior to their entering primary school. This measure should especially aid Romani pupils because according to statistics, less than 30 % of Romani children ever attend a preschool facility in the Czech Republic (compared to 80 % of the non-Romani population who do attend).
The Government is also recommended to accelerate its drafting of a law on social housing to bring and end to the continuing existence of residential hotels offering substandard housing at high prices. An acceptable solution must also be found as soon as possible for the former campus of the WWII-era concentration camp for Romani people at Lety by Písek, where an industrial pig farm is still in operation.
This year's ECRI report is just the fifth on the racial situation in the Czech Republic since the fall of the Iron Curtain and was written last fall. It was not published until now because it had to undergo the demanding approval process within the Council of Europe, which ended with it being adopted by the Committee of Ministers.
Slovakia also sharply criticized
The Council of Europe also severely criticized Slovakia's lack of progress in the educational segregation of Roma and political hate speech. Human Rights Commissioner Nils Muižnieks published a report criticizing the chronic segregation of Roma in the schools and their high drop-out rate.
"Although Slovakia's anti-discrimination framework is comprehensive, it provides a differing degree of protection for various vulnerable social groups and must be reformed to close all protection gaps," Muižnieks said. "The placement of Roma children in special schools, the spatial segregation of Roma, and their substandard housing situation must also be addressed as a matter of priority."
The United Nations Development Programme conducted a survey in 2010 that found that as many as one in five Romani children in Slovakia never finish primary education and only 17 % go on to secondary education. It also found that 43 % of Romani children attend ethnically segregated classes in mainstream education.
The 2011 census found 2 % of the population self-identified as Roma, but experts estimate the actual number of Roma at 7.5 % of the population of 5.4 million. Many reside in illegal settlements lacking electricity, running water and sewerage.
Muižnieks responds to Czech Public Defender's report on asylum-seekers in detention
"I am dismayed by credible reports of degrading treatment and substandard living conditions of asylum seekers at the Bělá-Jezová detention facility in the Czech Republic. The recent report by the Czech Ombudsman indicates that families are held at this centre in prison-like conditions, children lack warm clothes and appropriate footwear. The security personnel perform their functions in a highly intimidating manner by using handcuffs, dogs and other means that traumatise children and their families. Moreover, the asylum seekers are reportedly obliged to pay for their detention in this facility.
I call on the Czech authorities to give effect to the Ombudsman’s recommendations and take rapid and resolute steps to improve the asylum seekers’ reception conditions. Any abuse and degrading treatment of families and children must be promptly sanctioned in order to prevent their recurrence. The current migrant inflows must be managed according to European and international human right standards that exclude criminalisation of irregular migration and migrant detention. As regards the issue of reported payment by detainees of their detention costs, such measures are not in conformity with international and European standards. The Czech authorities should make full use of existing alternatives to detention, fully respect all migrants’ dignity and provide effective safeguards against any abuse."
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