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Romani refugees segregated in a Czech center and discriminated against, Regional Governor accuses them of theft, police say no such crimes have been reported

11.4.2022 8:05
Romani refugees from Ukraine were segregated from non-Romani refugees at an official reception center set up in the Černá louka Exhibition Center of Ostrava, Czech Republic - 6 April 2022. (PHOTO: Romea.cz)
Romani refugees from Ukraine were segregated from non-Romani refugees at an official reception center set up in the Černá louka Exhibition Center of Ostrava, Czech Republic - 6 April 2022. (PHOTO: Romea.cz)

At an official refugee reception center set up at the Černá louka Exhibition Center in Ostrava, Czech Republic, Romani refugees have been automatically segregated from non-Romani one, separated into a different area marked off by tape and inverted tables, and not allowed to leave the space set aside for them; if they want to go to the toilet, for example, they can only go if accompanied by the center's staff or volunteers. In addition, the Governor of the Moravian-Silesian Region, Ivo Vondrák, has publicly accused Romani refugees of committing theft. 

The police have refuted that allegation and say they have not yet had to deal with any reports of theft at the center. The Fire and Rescue Service of the Moravian-Silesian Region has ruled out the idea that any segregation of or discrimination against the Romani refugees is happening.

Discrimination and segregation of Romani refugees in Ostrava

News server Romea.cz has mapped the segregatory behavior that took place in Ostrava's Regional Assistance Center for Assistance to Ukraine (KACPU). The free movement of incoming Romani refugees was restricted at that location.

Romani refugees did not receive basic aid there, such as baby diapers or food. "A group of 26 arrived this weekend, eight adults and the rest  children, including very young children. They were never officially registered, never offered visas, never offered insurance. They were clearly forbidden to move about freely," a local volunteer who wishes to remain anonymous described the inhumane practices to Romea.cz.

According to the anonymous volunteer, 30 beds had been set aside for the Romani refugees upon their arrival and they were subsequently accommodated. According to the information available to the Romea.cz server, the refugees were Romani people from Berehove, Ukraine, bordering Hungary.

It was more difficult to communicate with this group of people because although they live in Ukraine, they only speak Hungarian. Some of these Romani refugees also hold both Hungarian and Ukrainian passports.

"The adult Romani refugees wanted to go to the bistro, which is located on the ground floor, for the water and food, just like the other refugees. However, somebody hid both the water and the food from them. That night, ethnic Ukrainians arrived at the reception center who were provided with both registration and visas, insurance, food and drink," the anonymous volunteer described the situation at the center.

"When I arrived for my shift, the group of Ukrainian Roma was still there. It was crazy. There were police officers wearing balaclavas, four volunteers, and there was tape strung all around as if a murder or other serious crime was being investigated. Barricades were set up using several tables so the Romani refugees could not move about freely in the space. If somebody wanted to go to the toilet, those in charge grabbed ahold of the person's shirt collar and took them there like that," said the anonymous volunteer, who has been helping refugees almost since the beginning of the Russian aggression in Ukraine. 

"I asked the other volunteers why the Romani refugees, even actual infants, were not being provided with basic aid like water, food or diapers, which are also available at the center. None of the volunteers who work at KACPU would listen to my arguments," the whistleblower told news server Romea.cz.

Fire and Rescue Service: The Roma were robbing the other refugees

The reception center at the Černá louka Exhibition Center in Ostrava is managed by the Fire and Rescue Service of the Moravian-Silesian Region. Spokesperson Petr Kůdela denies segregatory behavior or discrimination has been committed against Romani refugees at the center.

The spokesperson would just admit that one group of Romani refugees had been separated from the other refugees. "That was just one specific case of a group of 30 Roma who came to KACPU on the night of Sunday 3 April to Monday 4 April 2022 and left on Monday afternoon. Like other groups or families or individuals, its members were placed with confidence in the KACPU dormitory in its relaxation area, where there are 130 folding beds next to each other in one hall, without a single barrier," Kůdela told the Romea.cz news server.

"By the morning, however, members of that group had committed robbery at the very least against several of the other sleeping visa applicants - the stolen objects were found in their possession, in cooperation with the Czech Police, they were noisy and made a mess, they harassed the other visa applicants, and among other things they damaged the 30 folding beds and other equipment, for example, they damaged both of the children's play corners and did not even follow the dietary and hygienic rules at KACPU Ostrava," said Kůdela.

The police, however, have rejected the allegation that they had to deal with any thefts at the center at that time. "Regarding your question, we do not have a registered case of theft at that time in the KACPU," said police spokeswoman Pavla Jiroušková when asked by Romea.cz whether the Czech Police dealt with any theft on 4 April 2022.

An explanation of what happened at the center last Monday morning is offered by the anonymous volunteer with whom the Romea.cz news server is in contact. "The children were playing a game together after waking up and they hid one child's shoes and then told him to look for them. After some time, the child complained to the police officer present that he couldn't find his shoes. The officer began to immediately solve the case. An innocent children's game ultimately became an affair that took up the whole morning. The shoes were eventually found," the volunteer described the absurd situation to Romea.cz

Systematic segregation is proven by video recordings

The firefighters' spokesperson has admitted those Romani refugees were separated from non-Romani refugees. "One group was offered a separate part of the dormitory set off by tables, there was access for just one specific group who were behaving very abnormally, endangering KACPU operations, security and also the other visa applicants. The separate space in a third of the dormitory, created by placing tables side-by-side, was tolerated by the group without any objections," Kůdela told Romea.cz.

"Nobody was keeping them in that designated place, they were absolutely free to leave the KACPU building at Černá louka in Ostrava. They preferred to stay warm and dry, near the facilities, with the cots," Kůdela added, contrary to what the volunteer working in the center told the Romea.cz news server.

"The designated area also served to maintain the safety of the entire group, because the theft, the harassment of the other people and the noise caused negative reactions from the other peacefully-waiting visa applicants," the spokesperson for the Fire and Rescue Service of the Moravian-Silesian Region claimed. "Since then - as of Wednesday afternoon, 6 April 2022 - we have not seen any similarly-behaving group in KACPU. We believe it was just one 'exceptional' group and merely a one-off affair."

However, the Romea.cz news server has video recordings made on the night of Tuesday 5 April to Wednesday 6 April proving yet another group of Romani refugees arrived at the center on 6 April after one o'clock in the morning and was separated from the other refugees by tape and a barricade of tables. On the recording made available to the Romea.cz news server, the center's employees first talk about waiting for another Roma group.

The video footage shows an empty space marked off by tape and overturned tables. The footage then shows several Romani refugee families sleeping in that space.

"They'll get the handcuffs, we have to keep an eye on the black morgoshe"

One of the volunteers captured in the video recording can be heard worrying that the group of Romani refugees might also come from the Transcarpathian Region near the Hungarian border with Ukraine. A police officer present says: "They shouldn't be, I sent in all the documents. Otherwise, I told them they would be handcuffed if we find out after two days of vetting that they are Hungarians," before concluding that such refugees are still just economic migrants because there is reportedly no fighting in the Transcarpathian Region of Ukraine. 

The anonymous volunteer working at the center also described racist allusions made by other volunteers about Romani refugees to the Romea.cz news server. A Baník Ostrava football fan is also said to be helping as a volunteer in the center.

"I heard that [football fan] volunteer ask another person whether he could manage being downstairs alone. When he said he definitely could, she told him that everybody else was going upstairs to keep an eye on the black morgoshe," the volunteer said, adding that the Romani refugees had not yet arrived at that point and that there were no grounds for predicting they would behave in such a way as to require increased attention. 

Romani refugee woman:  We were put elsewhere than the rest of the refugees

A Romani refugee woman who arrived in the Czech Republic together with 13 other refugees passed through the reception center at the Černá louka Exhibition Center at the beginning of the week of 28 March, and according to her, all was still in order in the Ostrava center at that time. The refugees just had to spend one night at KACPU before going to the humanitarian registration center at Vyšní Lhota the next day (29 March). 

However, she said a different approach was taken toward non-Romani refugees compared to Romani ones at Vyšní Lhota. "From the beginning of arriving at Vyšní Lhota we were quite well received, but then we noticed that when ethnic Ukrainians arrived, all their necessary documents were produced on the spot and they also got aid," Ms. R, who is from Berehove, Ukraine, told Romea.cz.

"We've been in the Czech Republic for a week already and we haven't completed those legal steps," Ms. R said. She also confirmed that Romani refugees are being segregated from the rest when she said ethnic Ukrainians are housed in one place and the Roma are separated from them in an absolutely different building.

Regional Governor alleges "inadaptable Roma" are stealing and trashing residential hotels, police know nothing about it

In the meantime, the Czech media have begun to publish reports that "very inadaptable nomadic Roma from Hungary" have come to the Moravian-Silesian Region. These reports are the fault of the Governor of the Moravian-Silesian Region, Ivo Vondrák, who has accused Romani people of destroying the facilities in a residential hotel, of cutting into the seat of a public transportation vehicle, and of stealing things.

"Those so-called specific groups of the population are arriving here, that is, people who are quite inadaptable, and we have big problems with them. They are usually so-called Hungarian Roma, i.e., nomadic groups of people, and many of them have dual citizenship - both Ukrainian and Hungarian. In fact, some people are destroying our residential hotels and means of transport and have no problem stealing the things they need," Vondrák said at a press conference on Monday, 4 April after the crisis staff meeting.

"Such sinners are then expelled from the residential hotels. We can't send them to another residential hotel, though, where they would be able to destroy more accommodation," added Vondrák, noting that this alleged problem does not just concern the Moravian-Silesian Region.

According to the Regional Governor, such actions harm the other refugees. Nikola Birklenová, spokesperson for the Moravian-Silesian Regional Authority, told the Romea.cz news server that the governor got this information from the crisis staff meeting, specifically from the police.

The spokesperson refused to specify how many such alleged incidents had transpired, saying she did not know and that the police should know everything. The Romea.cz server then contacted Jiroušková, spokesperson for the Czech Police, to verify Vondrák's allegations.

However, when asked about the alleged criminal activity of Romani refugees with dual (Hungarian and Ukrainian) citizenship and the number of such acts registered by the Police of the Czech Republic, her answer was: "In response to your query, we state that we do not have an analytical tool to determine the information you require, nor is this information statistically recorded." In a subsequent telephone interview, she added that no owner of any residential hotel has reported any damage to or breakage of equipment to the Czech Police.

A turn for the better?

Based on the findings of the Romea.cz news server, Deputy Public Defender of Rights Monika Šimůnková is investigating the situation of Romani refugees from Ukraine, and the  interest of the Romea.cz server in the functioning of the KACPU in Ostrava and its approach to Romani refugees apparently has also caused a turnaround in the behavior of the Fire and Rescue Service of the Moravian-Silesian Region. The service announced on Wednesday, 6 April that it has invited workers from the Ostrava-based organization Vzájemné soužití (Life Together) to work closely together with them on this issue. 

"[The NGO] is informed about every Romani group or other minority nationality that comes to KACPU, has permanent access here, and most importantly, is able to advise or to aid us with any complications that could occur at KACPU Ostrava," firefighter spokesperson Kůdela told news server Romea.cz. On Friday, 8 April, one group of Romani refugees was accompanied to the Černá louka reception center in Ostrava by a Life Together team.
 

hor, ryz, translated by Gwendolyn Albert
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Discrimination, Ostrava, Racism, refugee, Ukraine



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