Ukrainian Roma struggling to find accommodation in Czechia

Ukrainian Roma refugees

Many Ukrainian refugees of Roma origin are having trouble finding accommodation in the Czech Republic, amid allegations that Czechia is employing double standards. The interior minister denies racial segregation and announced that accommodation for 300 Ukrainian refugees of Roma origin could be ready next week.

Around 2,000 Ukrainian Roma are reported to have arrived in Czechia since the start of the war with Russia, but since the beginning there have been problems finding accommodation for them.

Regional governors such as Martin Netolický complain that the Ukrainian Roma are abusing the benefits system and have accused them of ‘social tourism’, as most of the Ukrainian Roma are from the Hungarian-speaking Transcarpathian region in western Ukraine, where there is no conflict.

“Standard normal families who are really coming because they are fleeing the war and who behave in a normal way can be accommodated in the framework we already have. But it seems that some refugees are abusing the system. We call it social tourism – they come for benefits and then they leave.”

One of the problems is that, due to Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orbán's policy of offering Hungarian citizenship to Hungarian speakers in neighbouring countries, many Ukrainian Roma have EU passports, which means they are not eligible for the special visa granted to Ukrainian refugees in the Czech Republic. Minister of the Interior Vít Rakušan says that these people, according to common EU rules, are not entitled to help in the Czech Republic, but should apply for it in Hungary.

Martin Rozumek | Photo: Jana Přinosilová,  Czech Radio

However, trying to apply for help in Hungary often doesn’t work either, says director of the Organisation For Aid to Refugees, Martin Rozumek.

“EU citizens have the right to freedom of movement throughout the whole EU, so if they are Hungarian citizens they can go where they want. I am just sorry that Hungary has no interest in its own citizens – we’ve heard of cases where they refuse them entry and try to return them to somewhere else in Europe.”

This category of people usually do not speak Ukrainian, only Hungarian, and therefore the language barrier is also a problem.

Another problem, Mr. Rakušan says, is that Romani refugees have very specific requirements, as often they need accommodation that can house a large number of people. However, at a meeting with regional governors this week, Mr. Rakušan said that around 21 properties had been identified that could potentially house up to 300 Ukrainian Roma, starting in the next week or so.

“We plan to choose three or four properties where in the course of a week or 10 days we can start to house people who refuse the traditional type of accommodation, who are usually Roma. They come, they don’t want to be divided and they have big families that want to stay together. Therefore we are trying to find suitable accommodation in cooperation with Roma non-profit organisations.”