NGO boss: Only Roma refugees are subjected to long procedures

Ukrainian Roma refugees

The authorities are now creating a second tent city in Prague, in the Malešice district. It will handle some of the hundreds of Ukrainian refugees of Roma origin – many also citizens of Hungary – who have been sleeping at the Main Train Station in recent weeks. I discussed the situation with Martin Rozumek, head of the non-profit Organization for Aid to Refugees.

“I think the Czech government did not pay enough attention to the situation at the train station.

“It was too much on the shoulders of NGOs, volunteers and the City of Prague.

“The government simply resigned on controlling and supporting the people at the train station.

“And I hope that this will change soon.”

But isn’t it changing with, for example, the creation of this new tent city in Malešice?

Martin Rozumek | Photo: Kateřina Cibulka,  Czech Radio

“Yes, the opening of a new centre in Malešice could help.

“But I think that the state should be at the entry points, provide orientation and also support.

“And also carry out necessary controls: identify who is coming, for what reasons, with which documents and this cannot be replaced by NGOs.”

Many Roma refugees from Ukraine also have Hungarian passports. Do you understand why the Czech government is reluctant to help people who are citizens of a European Union country?

“I understand it, because European Union citizens are citizens with the same rights as Czechs, Slovaks or Hungarians.

“So they do not need special treatment, special temporary protection status, if they are citizens of Hungary for example.

“So I understand this position of the government.”

I saw the headline of an interview in which you say that the Czech state’s approach to these refugees is discriminatory. Why do you say that?

“What we see is that non-Roma refugees are not checked on dual citizenship or on stamps in their passports, when they cross the border between Ukraine and Poland.

“This is exclusively, or almost exclusively, directed at Roma refugees.

“So I feel that this is a discriminatory measure, with the goal of discouraging Roma refugees from applying for temporary protection in the Czech Republic.”

Do you think the police have been given specific orders to do this?

“I don’t know this. I can’t say.

“We just observe at the train station and the Assistance Centre in Prague that people go back to the station claiming that because they had some documents missing, or stamp missing, or that they are in a procedure to investigate the dual citizenship.

“But it never happens, to our knowledge, to a non-Roma refugee coming from Ukraine that such lengthy procedures on dual citizenship, etcetera, are conducted.”

I understand you yourself have been working on the ground at the Main Train Station. What is the situation like there now?

“The numbers are lower.

“Don’t ask me why, because one night we had 500 Roma refugees sleeping in the train station – and another night 300.

Tent city in Troja | Photo: Vít Šimánek,  ČTK

“So now the numbers are lower. I think people are using the opportunity to get some support in the tent camp in Troja.

“But I don’t know if more refugees are going to other countries, because we know that some other cities and countries have offered to accept refugees from Prague.

“But it can happen that tomorrow we will have another 500, so it’s hard to say.”

Images of the Roma refugees at the Main Train Station have been making international news and today for example are on The Guardian website. But is this creating a distorted picture? Aren’t the Czechs doing quite well in general, when it comes to handling the refugee situation?

“You are right. The overall picture is very positive.

“More than 345,000 Ukrainian refugees have received temporary protection and the vast, vast majority of them are accommodated and registered.

“More than 50,000 Ukrainian refugees have already found jobs, which is a huge success.

“And this picture of let’s say 2,000 Roma refugees, coming in large families, so no-one wants to accommodate them, is distorting the whole picture.

“I think the overall operation is a success.”

Author: Ian Willoughby
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