Cabinet adopts strategy on fighting Romany exclusion

Amidst social and ethnic unrest in parts of the country caused by growing tension between the majority population and Romanies, the Czech government on Wednesday adopted a strategy to combat the social exclusion of the Romany minority. Over the next four years, the government plans to spend up to 15 billion crowns on a series of measures ranging from fighting crime to improving the education of Romany children.

The document, adopted by the Czech centre-right government on Wednesday, is the first comprehensive strategy on how to improve the living conditions for a large part of the country’s 250,000-strong Romany minority.

According to various estimates, around 100,000 Romanies are now living in up to 400 socially and economically isolated areas, often referred to as ghettos.

In light of the tense situation ion in northern Bohemia and other parts of the country where people have taken to the streets to protest against problems with impoverished Romanies, the government now proposes measures aimed at reversing the trend that has seen a deterioration in the Roma minority’s living conditions over the last two decades.

The most significant steps proposed by the government include a crack down on crime in those areas through closer cooperation between the local authorities and the police; fighting of usury that is rampant in those communities, and fighting hate crime.

Photo: Filip Jandourek
The government would also like to establish more low-threshold accommodation facilities and help their clients to move on to regular housing. Social and welfare benefits – the only source of legal income for a majority of Romanies living it the problem areas – should be handed out in return for community service and provided the recipients’ children regularly attend school.

To fight unemployment that reaches up to 100 percent in the socially excluded areas, the government wants to invest in creating jobs accessible for people with limited or no work experience, introduce flexible employment on an hourly basis, and support job creators in these areas.

At long last, the government followed the recommendations of Czech and foreign experts alike and now wants to end the practice of placing a disproportionately high number of Romany children in special schools. These schools should only serve children with severe learning disabilities while socially handicapped children should be included in regular schools with increased support by teaching assistants.

Zdeněk Ryšavý
Zdeněk Ryšavý is the head of a leading Czech Romany advocacy group, Romea. He welcomes the new strategy but says we’ll yet have to wait for its practical outcome.

“I think this is in fact the first material outlining measures to be adopted to improve the situation of those people. It also gives estimates of how much these measures will cost, and says that these investments will pay off. But what I’m concerned about is how many of those measures will eventually be put into practice.”

The series of around 100 measures proposed in the new strategy, including a number of changes to the legislation, should be implemented by the year 2015. The document estimates their annual costs at around 15 billion crowns.