Illegal money-lending - a crucial problem among Czech Roma
The number of Czech Roma leaving the country to seek political asylum in Western Europe has again increased in recent weeks. Those who leave say they're discriminated against and don't feel they're protected from attacks by skinheads. But the government's Human Rights Commissioner, Jan Jarab, says excessive debt is another reason why Czech Roma are leaving the country. The Czech Prime Minister Vladimir Spidla appealed to the Roma not to leave the Czech Republic on Thursday, saying while they had come to the region in the 14th century, their roots were now here. Mr Spidla called on the Roma to cooperate with the government to help the authorities improve their living conditions. On Thursday the Government Council for Roma Affairs met to discuss the latest developments, and agreed that unsuccessful asylum seekers should not be allowed to claim back the social benefits they missed while abroad. Radio Prague's Pavla Horakova spoke to Kumar Vishwanathan, an Indian community worker living and working with the Roma community in Ostrava. She began by asking him what he thought about the government's recommendation.
Illegal money-lending in the Roma community is said to be among the reasons why Czech Roma are leaving the country. Can you explain that in more detail?
The government is planning to establish a special police body in order to tackle illegal money-lending among the Roma. Do you think that's the right approach?
"I think it is a good approach but then there are two sides to the problem. From my point of view, the security issues which the police can address, such as protecting the victims should also go hand in hand with efforts addressed at the core cause of why people go to the usurers. Basically, the fundamental problem is that the Roma don't have access to certain very crucial financial services and that has to be addressed simultaneously."