The town hall of Slany near Prague has begun a war on defaulters. Over the weekend several Roma families were forced out of their apartments. With nowhere to go, they now live on the street. While the authorities claim the drastic step was a last resort, the town's Roma community has accused them of discrimination. Mirna Solic reports:
Five Roma families now live among beds, closets and other furniture - not in their apartments but out on the pavement. According to the latest decision by the town hall, they even have to pay to stay there since the street is public property. Three children were moved to an asylum centre in Prague, but their pregnant mother, expected to give birth next week, remained on the street.
Roma describe the situation as desperate. "We have nowhere to go," says Kveta Grundzova, who was moved out with her husband. Since town hall evicted them, they accused the mayor of racism and an inability to solve social problems.
In his defence, mayor Ivo Roubik claims that evictions of non-Roma families will also follow:
"Next week the town council will hold a meeting on the eviction of non-Roma families, or families from the majority of the population, who live in the same building, in the same way that these previous Roma families were forced out. It's not true that the town evicts only Roma people, the town sets the same limits for everybody. It doesn't make any exceptions, and people who obey social norms and rules of mutual life don't have any problems."
Although Mr Roubik claims all evicted families were rent dodgers, human rights organisations say that not all of them failed to pay their rent, some had even paid it on time. Some families who owe the town wanted to negotiate about the payment schedule, but the town refused them, says a representative of the Information Centre for Citizenship, Civil and Human Rights.
Roma organisations have also accused the town of avoiding - rather than trying to solve - the problem of those Roma who live on welfare. If the local authorities really wanted to deal with the problem, they would withdraw the money for rent directly from their social benefits, rather than leave their debt to rise, says Matej Sarkozi from the Government's Council for Roma Affairs. There is also a possibility of including field workers who work in Roma communities, he says.
The current dilemma has caught the attention of Deputy Ombudsman Anna Sabatova who promised to investigate the problem of the displaced families.
This, however, is not the only problem between the Roma population and local councils in the Czech Republic. A similar conflict occurred a few years ago in the town of Usti nad Labem, where the local authorities built a wall surrounding several blocks of flats on Maticni Street inhabited mainly by Roma residents. The council claimed the Roma were untidy and noisy, extremely annoying for their neighbours. The wall was taken down after being condemned by both Czech and foreign authorities.
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