Last Updated: Friday, 26 December 2014, 13:50 GMT

Guidelines Relating to the Eligibility of Czech Roma Asylum Seekers, Update

Publisher UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR)
Publication Date 1 December 1999
Cite as UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), Guidelines Relating to the Eligibility of Czech Roma Asylum Seekers, Update, 1 December 1999, available at: http://www.refworld.org/docid/3ae6b33610.html [accessed 28 December 2014]

1.        Introduction

1.           While only 33,000 people identified themselves as Roma in the last census (1991), there are an estimated 170,000 to 220,000 in the Czech Republic.  Accurate statistics regarding Czech Roma are thus difficult to ascertain and often are based on the above mentioned census. While Czech Roma are discussed for the purposes of this paper as one group, they are composed of a variety of clans, including the Slovak Roma, who make up the overwhelming majority of Roma now in the Czech Republic, Vlax or Olah Roma, Hungarian Roma, Sinti and Czech or Moravian Roma.[1] The latter arrived in the Czech lands as early as the 15th century but between 6,000-8,000 of their number were killed during the Nazi occupation (reportedly 95% of the then population of Roma in the Czech Republic), leaving only approximately 600 survivors. After the war and subsequent deportation from the Czech Sudetenland to Germany of thousands of Czechs of German ethnicity, thousands of Roma were settled, often forcibly, from Slovakia to western Bohemia to fill the newly vacant flats and factory jobs. The Communist Czechoslovakia's policy toward the Roma ranged from forced settlement and employment, to assimilation, and forced integration as a cultural and ethnic group.

2.           Following the fall of communism in the then Czechoslovakia in November 1989, the situation of the Roma improved in some respects and deteriorated in others.  They are recognised as a national minority, have formed political and cultural organisations, and, like other Czech citizens, have the opportunity to enjoy the benefits of political and economic freedom. However, with the transition to a market economy, the Roma have become increasingly marginalized relative to the majority Czech ethnic population, both socially and economically.  Moreover, dormant anti-Roma attitudes, suppressed under the Communist system, emerged in the form of societal discrimination and, less frequently, violent attacks.  This increased marginalization and feeling of vulnerability has led some members of the Roma community to seek a better future through migration.

3.           In addition to the dire economic situation faced by Roma, the preferred social distance maintained by many Roma further contributes to the placement of Roma on the fringes of Czech society. While it is understandable given the history of Roma vis-à-vis dominant cultures (persecution, assimilation campaigns, etc.) it may be viewed as an added obstacle to successful integration. The resulting rift in community relations is often expressed as a conflict in social values. This phenomena is perhaps the most difficult and intriguing aspect for an outsider to understand, yet it is an important factor when discussing the relations between Roma and non-Roma communities.

4.           Czech Roma asylum claims are usually made on the basis of discrimination in access to education, housing, and employment and the lack of state protection with regard to racially motivated denial of services or acts of violence. This paper will therefore cover such topics, endeavouring to present objective information from publicly available sources.

2.        Education

5.           The level of education among Roma is particularly low, most finishing their schooling prior to completion of the 9th grade. (Nine years of school is compulsory in the Czech Republic.) According to the 1991 census, less than 2% of those Roma over the age of 15 have attended or completed secondary school or university. The Czech government estimates that currently between 70% to 80% of Roma students do not obtain a basic education (either dropping out before completing nine years or attending a "special school" which is not considered to provide a basic education.[2] Obstacles to academic success are myriad, including in some cases parents who, not having an education themselves, do not encourage the pursuit of studies, and harassment from ethnic Czech students. As reflected in the Czech government Interministerial Committee for Roma Affairs Report of the Situation of the Romani Community, "The majority of Romani children are, from the very beginning, perceived as outsiders who will not succeed, both in their community and by the school, and it is only a matter of time until these students are transferred to a special school. Many, if not most, elementary school teachers follow teaching methods which try to "paint Romani children white," without considering the fact that a Romani student is just as valuable a client as any other, whatever his starting position.  For a Romani child, starting school in a standard elementary school tends to be a shock which only confirms the impossibility of dignified integration into society."[3]  Pre-school preparatory classes were established after long awaited regulations were issued in mid-1997 although some NGO funded classes began on an experimental basis in the preceding years. They are established on the discretion of individual school administrations and open to all children from socially disadvantaged families. The Ministry of Education only considers providing direct financial support in exceptional cases.  As of October 1999, the Ministry of Education reports that preparatory classes benefit 128 children in kindergarten; 36 children in "special" primary schools (for blind, deaf, or seriously mentally impaired children); 670 in regular primary schools, and 403 in other "special" primary schools (children with teaching disorders or socially disadvantaged).

6.           Perhaps most significantly, the education that is most frequently received by Romani students does not lead to job related skills or vocations.  Roma children, especially those who do not learn standard Czech at home or who come from impoverished families, are significantly over represented in "special schools", originally intended for those who are mentally or physically handicapped or learning disabled.[4] The decision to send a pupil to a special school is often made by a school psychologist who tests the child in kindergarten or first grade. The de facto segregation is often so great that in some cases the parents request their child's transfer to a special school in response to abuse from non-Roma children or to avoid isolating the child from other neighbourhood Roma children. While these schools receive more funds per student and have a better teacher to child ratio than basic schools, graduates do not obtain qualification in any regular apprenticeship and, in practice, further education is precluded.[5] "Tracking" students based on linguistic or social reasons rather than learning potential is a primary obstacle to Roma's future success in finding employment in an increasingly sophisticated economy and is the first step towards continued impoverishment and marginalization.

The Czech government' s recent policy initiatives in the field of education for Roma include more emphasis on preparatory classes, Roma assistants in school, measures to eliminate the language barrier, and an individual approach based on smaller classes and teacher training. Moreover, the curriculum of primary and secondary schools are to be changed to include Roma history, culture, and traditions. In October 1999, the government reported that 140 Roma assistants were working in primary and secondary schools. At the time of writing it is too early to evaluate whether these ideas will receive the necessary funding as well as support at the local level to be implemented and have an effect on attendance and academic success of Roma students.[6]

3.        Housing

7.           Housing has become an acute problem for the Czech population in general, especially in areas where employment is more readily available. For many Roma, the situation is markedly worse.[7] There are large concentrations of Roma on the outskirts of cities, some communities lacking easily accessible water, electricity and sanitation facilities. These "ghettos", distant from educational and employment opportunities as well as the rest of society, serve to increase the tendency of inhabitants to live on the margins of society. In addition to a lack of resources to enter the private housing market, Roma sometimes face discrimination in obtaining flats. According to several polls asking the question over the last few years, Roma are the least preferred neighbours compared to all other nationalities or ethnic groups.

Part of the Roma assimilation campaign during the 1950's and 60's was the forced movement of Roma into urban flats in disregard of their preferences, clan relations, life-style and social hierarchy. This resulted in some cases in the damaging or disrepair of flats, incidents which were generalised to the Roma community at large and thus reinforced the resentment and negative stereotypes held by large segments of the majority population towards Roma. Since the restitution process launched after the 1989 revolution, Roma have been frequently moved to "substitute flats" of a substantially lower standard, sometimes in exchange for financial compensation, and in some cases not receiving any compensation due to the absence of a lease or vague lease provisions.[8]

4.        Employment

8.           With only a basic education and no professional qualifications, Roma have increasingly meagre job opportunities. Although the unemployment rate in the Czech Republic is approximately 7%, the unemployment rate among Roma is quite high, with estimates reaching 70%, and in some areas, 90%. Those that are working are generally performing manual labour or are in the industrial or agricultural sectors. Roma women who are working are most frequently employed as cleaners. As the market transition results in the closure of non-profitable enterprises, Roma, having few skills and sometimes facing discrimination[9], have fewer opportunities to find or maintain employment. Moreover, many of the low skilled jobs, such as construction, are now performed by Ukrainians and other migrants who are hired for lower than the official minimum wage and not provided benefits. Many Roma therefore rely on state benefits and live at or below the poverty line.

Government initiatives, announced in April 1999[10], related to improving Roma access to employment are to include the following: legislative initiatives to prohibit discrimination, the establishment of an independent government institution with the mandate to monitor and sanction discriminatory practices, and preference to Roma firms in the award of government contracts. Furthermore, in view of the fact that social benefits are currently quite comparable to, and sometimes higher than, the wages that workers would earn in low skill professions, a new welfare policy of gradual minimum wage increases is proposed. This is intended to eliminate the present disincentive to find employment by ensuring that working is always more financially rewarding than unemployment benefits. Again, it is premature to evaluate the implementation or effect of these proposals.

5.        Discrimination, Intolerance and Violence

9.           Widespread anti-Roma feelings exist among the ethnic Czech population.  It is often explained that Roma are not disliked due to their colour or ethnicity but because they are lazy, noisy, criminal, etc. Reactions to the Romany lifestyle range from indifference to intolerance, and are reflected in incidents of Roma being excluded from bars and restaurants, or, to a much lesser extent, being subject to racist statements and skinhead violence.

Popular attitudes against Roma are mirrored in the political context, as local officials who are members of mainstream parties have on occasion made anti-Roma statements. In 1997, one Prague municipality mayor suggested that local authorities move "problem citizens" (Roma) out of city centres, and a mayor of Marianske Hory offered to subsidise flights for those Roma who sign their flat over to the city upon their departure to Canada (to ask for asylum). More recently, throughout 1999, a local municipality has, despite domestic and international condemnation, insisted on erecting a fence (i.e. the infamous "Maticni Street wall") along a street separating a Roma housing block with 34 families from 4 families of the majority ethnic community who reside on the other side. While many central government authorities have denounced this act and its highly charged symbolic content, many Parliamentarians have preferred to leave the matter for local authorities. Most tellingly, the town' s mayor, who serves as the chief spokesperson in favour of the wall, has not been repudiated by the main opposition party (former ruling party) of which he is a member. Finally, in November 1999 the structure was taken down and the government agreed to buy from the non-Roma owners the four homes opposite the Roma's housing block so that the non-Roma families can live elsewhere.

However, in a sign of progress, the Republican Party, espousing anti-Semitic and anti-Roma  views, received less than 5% of the vote in the 1998 legislative  elections and is thus no longer represented in parliament.

6.        State Protection

a.           Legal Framework

10.         There are several Executive bodies related to the monitoring of human rights or designing of policy with regard to minority relations.

i)            Human Rights Commissioner: Established under a government resolution in September 1998, he has the mandate to make initiatives and co-ordinate governmental authority in monitoring human rights, but neither represents nor advises individuals claiming a breach of their rights.

ii)           The Human Rights Council: Established in December 1998, it is chaired by the Human Rights Commissioner and consists of Deputy Ministers from 10 ministries and 10 members of the general public (appointed by the government). It is an advisory body and has several working groups including ones on manifestations of racism and human rights education.

iii)          The Inter-Ministerial Commission for the Affairs of the Roma Community: Established in 1997, this advisory group is also chaired by the Human Rights Commissioner, and includes 12 representatives from the Roma community who work in a one to one partnership with the Deputy Ministers of the 12 represented ministries. Three areas in which working groups have made recommendations to the Commission include employment, personal security, and re-integration of returning emigrants.

iv)           Council for National Minorities: Established in 1994 with a mandate to provide advice, initiatives, and co-ordination with respect to policy affecting national minorities. Chaired by the Human Rights Commissioner, 3 of the 12 representatives are Roma.

11.         The Roma are officially considered a national minority and thus under the Czech Constitution and Charter of Fundamental Rights and Freedoms are entitled to enjoy the following:

The right to education in their language;

The right to use their language in official contacts;

The right to develop their own culture;

The right to impart and receive information in their language;

The right to associate in ethnic associations;

The right to participate in the decision-making concerning national and ethnic minorities.[11]

12.         Article 24 of the Charter affirms that  the "national or ethnic identity of any individual shall not be used to his/her detriment. " Moreover, the rights and freedoms guaranteed under the Charter apply equally "to all irrespective of sex, race, colour of skin, language, faith, religion, political or other opinion, national or social origin, belonging to a national or ethnic minority, property, birth or other status." This principle of non-discrimination can also be found in other statutes, such as the Labour Code, Administrative Code, Civil Code, Law on State Social Support, Family Code, and the Penal Code and Penal Order.

13.         The Czech Republic is a party to several international treaties protecting the rights of minorities and prohibiting discrimination, including the following:

International Convenant on Civil and Political Rights

International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights

Convention on the Protection of Fundamental Human Rights and Freedoms

Convention on the Rights of the Child

International Convention on the Elimination of all forms of Racial Discrimination

14.         International treaties on human rights are directly binding and take precedence over Czech domestic legislation under Article 10 of the Czech Constitution.

15.         Following the murder of a Roma by skinheads in May 1995, the penal code was changed to include stiffer penalties for crimes determined to be "racially motivated". State Prosecutors were directed to seek the highest sentences in crimes where race was a factor and police were instructed to diligently investigate such acts.  A special unit in the criminal police was formed to combat extremist groups and since 1 January 1996, each District Police Department has an expert to combat racial violence.

16.         Acts which can constitute racially motivated crimes according to the Czech Criminal Code include the following:

§196      Violence against a group of inhabitants and against individuals for their political convictions, race or belief (6 months - 3 years);

§198      Defamation of race, nation or belief (2 years, 3 if by group of 2 or more);

§198a   Incitement to national or racial hatred (2 years);

§260      Sponsoring and promotion of movements aimed at suppressing the rights and freedoms of citizens (1-5 years, 3-8 years if by group or through the media);

§261      Public sympathy with fascist or similar movements (6 months - 3 years).

17.         On 29 October 1997 the Government accepted, on its third submission, a report on the situation of Roma prepared by the Council for National Minorities. Initiated several months earlier, the report became the subject of particular attention due to the influx of Roma to Canada (resulting in the re-imposition of a visa requirement) and a subsequent albeit smaller movement to EU states. In the decree accepting the report, the Government expressly acknowledges with concern the level of racism in society, including the behaviour of some state and local administrative officers. It also notes that the State, its citizens, and the Roma themselves must assist and cooperate in resolving the barriers to full participation of Roma in Czech society. The decree committed the government to several remedial actions in areas such as education, tolerance, discrimination, employment and housing. Due to political instability, a lack of funding, and insufficient political will, little progress resulted from this decree prior to the change in government bringing the Social Democrats (CSSD) to power in the summer of 1998. Since this time there has been an increased public debate on minority relations, greater efforts at the Central government level to promote tolerance, and specific initiatives such as the 12 point Resolution detailed under paragraph 19 of this report. However, as stated in the European Union's Regular Report from the Commission on Progress Towards Accession, "The situation of the Roma has not evolved markedly over the past year. It remains characterised by widespread discrimination, as anti-Roma prejudice remains high and protection from the police and the courts often inadequate, and by social exclusion." [12]

b.           State protection - in practice

18.         The record of enforcement and proper use of the above mentioned laws is mixed, especially on the local level. There have been cases in which the racial motivation is seemingly clear, yet judges, who have broad discretion in the matter, do not recognise the racial character of the crime and which resulted in short jail terms. As noted in the 1998 Annual Human Report issued by the Czech Helsinki Committee, "the stiffer penalties in the Criminal Code amendment have so far had no appreciable effect considering that in practice the assailants continue being sentenced to more lenient punishment than they would get if the offence were free of racial motivation." Some recent examples of delayed justice or insufficient sentences are as follows: 1) a Romani man, Mr. Milan Lacko, was beaten unconscious and left on a street by Skinheads on May 15, 1998.  He was subsequently struck by vehicles and killed.  In October 1998, the trial court convicted four youths of damage to health, racially motivated damage to health, and disturbing the peace. All four men received suspended sentences. In June 1999, the appeals court returned the case to the first instance court for a retrial which is expected in mid-2000. 2) In the case of Tibor Danihel, a Roma youth drowned in 1993 when a group of several dozen skinheads prevented him from leaving a lake. Three 3 skinheads were sentenced to 8.5, 7.5, and 7 years, by a regional court. The verdicts were annulled by the High Court in January 1999 which in turn was overruled by the Supreme Court in May 1999. The case now returns to the High Court for a retrial. 3) A 26 year old Roma woman, Ms. Helena Bihariova, was drowned in February 1998 after being forced into a river by two men. In September 1998, one assailant, convicted of disturbing the peace, had his sentence reduced to 15 months imprisonment and set free on the day of the verdict.  The other attacker was sentenced to 8 1/2 years for duress resulting in death and disturbing the peace. It was found by the court that the killing was in revenge for an alleged prior theft rather than a racial motivation.

19.         The Czech non-governmental organisation which tracks racial crimes, the Documentation Centre for Human Rights, states that as of 30 September 1999 there were 1,781 racially or ideologically motivated crimes committed in the Czech Republic since 1990[13]. Of these, 830 were violent attacks, the remainder were verbal. In 22 cases, the victim died as a result of the attack. The 390 attacks in 1998 represents a significant increase from previous years which the Center attributes to the better organisation and radicalisation of the skinhead movement, improved record keeping, and a feeling by skinheads that they have the tacit support of the police. This last idea is reinforced by the insufficient sentences received by offenders in previous years. The Center states that of a total of 138 persons sentenced for racial crimes in 1998, all but 13 received conditional sentences (probation) and 6 of the 13 received a sentence of less than one year imprisonment.

According to Ministry of Justice statistics, in the first half of 1999, 266 persons were arrested for crimes with a racial context, 238 of whom were formally charged. Of these, 75 were charged with the support and promotion of movements directed towards suppression of rights and freedoms of citizens (Art.260 and Art.261). Also in the first half of 1999, 81 persons were sentenced for crimes of racial hatred (compared to 60 in the first half of 1998). The breakdown of charges is as follows: 32 for supporting or promoting movements directed towards suppression of rights and freedoms of citizens; 12 for defamation of nation, race, and belief and incitement of racial hatred; 11 for violent crimes; 3 for bodily harm; and 6 for racially motivated disorderly conduct. All but seven received probation, public work, or no punishment.

20.         In regard to local police relations with Roma, as one official report stated" on some occasions, the police did not use all the tools to qualify the crime as racially motivated. At times the police even openly sympathise with skinheads. Therefore, many Roma are losing their trust in the police and are reluctant to report physical attacks." President Havel, commenting on the influx of Roma to Canada in the summer of 1997, provided an accurate reflection of the current situation: "this government is not racist, the Czech law is not racist either, but moods inclining to racism are dormant in society and the society's indifference to racial intolerance are more dangerous than fanatical racism. The indifference and apathy towards racism can be seen, for example in situations where people do not intervene in a brawl between skinheads and Roma, even the police hide around a corner now and then in order to avoid dealing with such cases." Based on the co-operation of some EU governments, the increased recruitment of Roma policemen (beyond the current handful) is being considered, but this initiative will take time to materialise.[14]

21.         The central government has initiated several projects intended to improve the social and economic situation of Roma, particularly in the fields of education and culture, including the following: district governments were encouraged to hire "social curators for national minorities" in order to provide counselling and assistance in improving Roma contacts with local administrative offices (those hired for this position are not necessarily Roma); regional offices drafting development plans are now obliged by decree to include measures for the improvement of the living and working conditions of Roma; a Roma cultural centre and history museum received funding in the city of Brno as do Roma media in the rest of the Czech Republic;  preparatory "zero start" classes are available in some schools; employers are given financial contributions for hiring persons qualified as not easily employable. The proponents of such measures acknowledge that a successful resolution is only possible in the long-term. However, to the worst off Roma, such measures, when they are aware of them, appear as "too little, too late". This attitude reflects the lack of confidence that characterises the relationship many Roma have with the Czech authorities.

In April 1999, the Czech government adopted a resolution, "On the Conception of Government Policy Towards Members of the Romani Community, Assisting Their Integration into Society, and a proposal of the same name. [15] The Proposal describes a 12 point program, committing the government to execute the following activities:

* Pass legislation prohibiting all forms of discrimination for the reasons of race, nationality, ethnic origin, or colour of skin; and to establish an independent State institution to monitor and sanction discriminatory behaviour;

* Provide preferences to marginalized citizens, including but not limited to Roma, in education, training, and receiving government contracts.

* Reaffirm the recognition of Roma as a national ethnic minority, and to ensure accompanying rights.

* Support Romani culture and incorporate Romani culture and history in the general education curricula.

* Affiliate Roma to the standard educational system and provide the needed support for their academic success;

* Empower Roma decision making in community affairs;

* Establish free legal, social, and psychological counselling;

* Educate judges on racial issues and Roma affairs;

* Promote tolerance and peaceful conflict resolution between the Roma and majority ethnic community;

* Subsidise NGOs working on behalf of Roma children and youth;

* Amend the social and labour policy to reduce Roma unemployment.

This resolution is intended to revitalise the measures presented in the Report on the situation of the Romani Community, of October 29, 1997. A specialist group was created to elaborate the "Conception" and will submit it to the government on  February 2, 2000. At the time of writing, it is premature to evaluate the results of the above plan of action. However, it is clear that the accompanying program will face funding difficulties due to the present economic situation in the Czech Republic. Moreover, without further efforts, it will be difficult to obtain the local level support crucial to making an impact on the daily lives of Roma citizens. It should be noted that the present government has a minority of representation in the Parliament and that the other parties have not as such taken a position regarding their support of the resolution.

c.            The impact of the Czech Citizenship Law

22.         In 1969 Czechoslovakia became a Federation and, while maintaining the internationally recognised Czechoslovak citizenship, for internal purposes created subsidiary Czech and Slovak citizenship. Those aged 15 and over and born in the Czech lands were conferred Czech citizenship (jus soli). Those younger than 15 years or born after January 1969 were given the same citizenship as their parents (jus sanguinis). When the Federation split in 1993, this internal citizenship, of no practical importance until then, was used to determine the initial body of citizens in the newly established Czech and Slovak Republics. Those former Czechoslovaks with Slovak internal citizenship who wished to opt for Czech citizenship could do so if they met three conditions: a) release from Slovak citizenship; b) permanent residency in the Czech Republic for at least two years; and c) a clean criminal record over the last five years.

23.         Thousands of Roma either did not apply, could not pay required administrative fees, or could not meet the above criteria and were thus considered Slovak citizens and aliens in the Czech Republic, despite having no genuine links to Slovakia. Roma, often having strained relations with local authorities and having a low level of education, had difficulty with the complicated option procedure. As most rights and benefits, such as employment, social welfare, and education are tied to permanent residency, obtaining Czech citizenship is also not seen as the highest priority in a community often struggling to meet their daily needs. Finally, the high incidence of petty crime and the difficulty in proving official rather than factual residence also excluded many from obtaining Czech citizenship. After much criticism from international organisations such as the UNHCR and the Council of Europe, and from local NGOs, an amendment was passed in April 1996 providing the Minister of Interior the discretion to waive the clean criminal record requirement. By the end of October 1997, the requirement was waived in 98% of the 1,800 applications lodged.  In early November 1997, the government announced that such waivers would be provided to all those who apply, including those previously denied. An amendment to the citizenship law was passed in September 1999 which with proper implementation should allow the thousands of de facto stateless, most but not all thought to be Roma, to opt for Czech citizenship. The amendment removes the "clean criminal record" requirement, allows for continuing Slovak citizenship, and recognises factual permanent residency rather than the more difficult to obtain official permanent residence. It is important to note that on this issue UNHCR and local NGOs were accepted as legitimate partners in this process and had a significant positive impact on reaching these results.

24.         Those persons who receive citizenship but do not have a domicile which they can register as their place of permanent residence are not eligible for a host of rights and benefits which, as elsewhere in the region, are often tied to residence rather than citizenship. As of November 1999, new legislation regarding permanent residency with respect to Czech citizens was still under consideration, the current draft of which rectifies this gap in assistance and rights.

7.        Analysis of Claims

25.         Applications for asylum made by Czech Roma are frequently based on discriminatory treatment and / or acts of violence at the hands of non-state actors, such as skinheads. Under the 1951 Convention there is no requirement that persecution be perpetrated by agents of the State. Rather, the definition requires that the individual having a well-founded fear of persecution is "unable or, owing to such fear, is unwilling to avail himself of the protection" of his country of origin. Thus, as noted in The Handbook on Procedures and Criteria for Determining Refugee Status, "[w]here  serious discriminatory or other offensive acts are committed by the local populace, they can be considered as persecution if they are knowingly tolerated by the authorities, or if the authorities refuse, or prove unable, to offer effective protection. (§65)

26.         While it cannot be reasonably disputed that Czech Roma are frequent victims of discrimination and on occasion incidents of violence, conditions in the Czech Republic do not warrant the recognition of such asylum claims on a prima facie basis. Applications must be assessed individually to establish if the treatment experienced amounts to or creates a reasonable fear of persecution in the context of the 1951 Geneva Convention.

27.         The Handbook on Procedures and Criteria for Determining Refugee Status offers some guidance on the standard to be applied in discrimination cases:

"Differences in the treatment of various groups do indeed exist to a greater or lesser extent in many societies. Persons who receive less favourable treatment as a result of such differences are not necessarily victims of persecution. It is only in certain circumstances that discrimination will amount to persecution. This would be so if measures of discrimination lead to consequences of a substantially prejudicial nature for the person concerned, e.g. serious restrictions on his right to earn a livelihood, his right to practise his religion, or his access to normally available educational facilities." (§54)

28.         Persecution may also result where the discriminatory measures are not serious but are "cumulative". As the Handbook states:

"In addition, an applicant may have been subjected to various measures not in themselves amounting to persecution (e.g. discrimination in different forms), in some cases combined with other adverse factors (e.g. general atmosphere of insecurity in the country of origin). In such situations, the various elements involved may, if taken together, produce an effect on the mind of the applicant that can reasonably justify a claim to well-founded fear of persecution on "cumulative grounds". Needless to say, it is not possible to lay down a general rule as to what cumulative reasons can give rise to a valid claim to refugee status. This will necessarily depend on all the circumstances, including the particular geographical, historical and ethnological context." (§53)

"Where measures of discrimination are, in themselves, not of a serious character, they may nevertheless give rise to a reasonable fear of persecution if they produce, in the mind of the person concerned, a feeling of apprehension and insecurity as regards his future existence. Whether or not such measures of discrimination in themselves amount to persecution must be determined in the light of all the circumstances. A claim to fear of persecution will of course be stronger where a person has been the victim of a number of discriminatory measures of this type and where there is thus a cumulative element involved." (§55)

Claims must therefore be evaluated on the basis of the cumulative effect of discrimination and the absence of effective legal remedies.

29.         In light of the above, UNHCR's view is as follows:

a.           in regard to discrimination, while there is no official policy to discriminate against Roma on the basis of their ethnicity and despite the recent series of measures to counteract discrimination, it is a fact that at the popular level discrimination takes place and is fairly widespread. In some instances, such discriminatory treatment may lead to consequences of a substantially prejudicial nature so as to amount to persecution. Claims should be assessed based on the nature of the discriminatory treatment encountered, the persistence of such discriminatory action, the cumulative aspect of it, and the severity of the consequences on the applicant or on his or her immediate family members;

b.           where it is assessed that the discriminatory actions amount to persecution or that the acts themselves, such as violent extremist attacks, are in themselves persecutory in nature, it will be necessary to evaluate the well-foundedness of the claim. Thus, it must be determined whether the authorities have afforded or are able to afford the applicant effective protection. As described above, authorities at the local level have not in all cases provided effective remedies against discrimination or threats to physical safety, and in a limited amount of cases the local authorities can be said to have condoned or themselves engaged in discriminatory treatment in contradiction with the declared policy of the Czech central government. For status determination purposes, in view of the comprehensive legal framework available and the increasing willingness on the part of authorities to provide protection in practice to all Czech citizens regardless of ethnicity, the circumstances of each case will need to be evaluated in order to determine whether it would be reasonable for the applicant to have relied on national protection.



[1] There are an estimated 170,000 Slovak Roma, 20,000 Vlax or Olah Roma (nomadic in lifestyle until 1959), 15,000 Hungarian Roma, 600 Czech and Moravian Roma, and about 100 Sinti (German speaking Roma).

[2] The Conception of Government Policy towards members of the Roma Community, Decision No. 279, April 7, 1999, p. 7.  Without a basic education, students can not enter secondary school and are not presently eligible for vocational qualification courses provided through local labour offices.

[3] Report on the situation of the Romani Community, Czech government Interministerial Committee for Roma Community Affairs, Prague, pg.11, October 29, 1997.

[4] Roma students are said to comprise approximately 70% of the students in special schools despite being about 2% of the national population.

[5] The Conception of Government Policy towards members of the Roma Community, Decision No. 279, April 7, 1999, p. 7.

[6] The Conception of Government Policy towards members of the Roma Community, Decision No. 279, April 7, 1999.

[7] As simply but accurately put by Czech government paper, The Roma in the Czech Republic and the Concept of the Government's Policy, August 1999, V. Sekyt, p. 3.  "The current housing situation of the larger part of the Roma is alarming".

[8] The Roma in the Czech Republic and the Concept of the Government's Policy, Prague, August 1999, V. Sekyt, Czech government Interministerial Committee for Roma Community Affairs, p.3.

[9] "Some representatives of the Ministry of Labour, as well as employees of the labour offices, verbally confirm what the Roma themselves report, that discrimination in employment is a frequent occurrence (for example, official lists of available jobs often have an anti-Romani supplement, i.e. a note that the particular employer does not accept Roma. Report on the situation of the Romani Community-Introduction, Czech government Interministerial Committee for Roma Community Affairs, Prague, pg.25, October 29, 1997.

[10] The Conception of Government Policy towards members of the Roma Community, Decision No. 279, April 7, 1999.

[11] Article 25.

[12] European Commission, Regular Report from the Commission on Progress Towards Accession, Minority Rights and the Protection of Minorities section, October 13, 1999.  Similarly, the Commission also noted in its 1998 Regular Report that despite increased attention from the Czech government since July 1997, the situation of the Roma "had not really improved."

[13] This includes both violent and non-violent offences.  Approximately 5% of this number represents racially motivated crime committed against groups other than Roma, such as dark skinned foreigners.

[14] To UNHCR's knowledge, there are currently less than 10 Roma working as police in the State force.  Few Roma would meet the educational requirements of graduating secondary school.  It is not known how many may be working on the municipal level.  One recent Ministry of Interior initiative to recruit and train Roma police resulted in two Roma meeting the police recruitment requirements.

[15] Resolution No. 279, adopted April 7, 1999.

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