From Sun Jan 30 12:52:07 2005
Date: Sat, 29 Jan 2005 00:50:33 -0600 (CST)
Subject: [NYTr] For Roma, Life No Picnic in Havel's Paradise
Article: 203281
To: undisclosed-recipients: ;

Living standards worsen for Roma

The Prague Post, 20 January 2005

New report shows employment, housing still problematic

20/1/2005—Employment opportunities are no more numerous, housing is no better and living standards are getting worse for Roma, or Gypsies, according to the first major government study of Romany Czechs since 1997.

Released Jan. 12, the study, produced by the department for human rights, cited two positive developments for Roma: Education among Roma is improving, although slowly, and reported cases of discrimination are gradually declining. But the overarching message of the report is that the condition of Romany Czechs, on the whole, is worsening despite millions of crowns of government spending and dozens of government projects.

“Health care, electricity, gas and water are getting more expensive,” said Ondrej Gina, head of the Roma Culture Union. “Which makes the situation for Roma harder.” “People have no money for rent, and they are evicted without being provided with any substitute housing.” The government estimates some 250,000 Roma live in the Czech Republic, or 2.5 percent of the population. About 70 percent of them are unemployed, the study says, and a majority live in ghettos on the edges of cities and towns. “Unemployment and bad housing are a syndrome of the times,” Gina said. “I’ve seen settlements where not a single Roma has worked since [1989]. They are living on welfare checks. Many have gotten used to not working.”

Other Roma leaders criticize employers for refusing to hire Romany workers. The government report, however, says that the country has improved on protecting Roma against discrimination. Last year, the government spent 93 million Kc ($4 million) on Roma programs, mainly through the Justice, Health, and Interior ministries. The report criticized spending for being unsystematic as a whole—inadequate in some cases, overlapping in others.

However, one program that the government notes is working is one-year pre-kindergarten preparatory classes for Romany children that are aimed at reducing the numbers of Romany children who wind up in classrooms and schools for children with special needs, including disabled and mentally handicapped children. Sixty percent of the 51,000 adult Roma surveyed attended such classes, according to the report. Among Romany children who go to preparatory classes, 70 percent enter regular elementary school classes. There are 137 such courses across the country. The report says about 1,000 Roma study at high schools today, up from 30 in 1989.

The report comes ahead of the World Bank's “Decade of Roma Inclusion” initiative, to be launched Feb. 2 in Sophia, Bulgaria. On Jan. 14, Slovakia announced 950 million Kc in spending this year on Roma programs. About 320,000 Roma live in Slovakia, about 6 percent of the population. The Czech government plans to spend 111 million Kc in 2005.

“These are only the most obvious funds that help Roma,” said Katerina Jacques of the Office of the Commissioner for Human Rights. “More money is spent to help Roma, but by various agencies and to various places. Because it's not coordinated by one office, there's no way to get a grand total.”

Ivan Vesely, head of Dzeno, a Czech Romany advocacy organization, said a serious analysis of Roma problems and corresponding plan were lacking. He advocates toughening welfare restrictions to pressure Roma to look for jobs. “I would give enough to survive, maybe 7,000 [Czech crowns] a month, not 12,000,” he said.

The government report calls for programs to improve education, housing and employment opportunities for Roma to be directed by one agency.