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     News: International report says situation of Slovak Roma approaching catastrophe

    OtherBBC MONITORING INTERNATIONAL REPORTS: A report by the International Organization for Migration warns of a worsening situation of Slovak Romanies. The following is the text of a report by Andrea Hajduchova, headlined "Report on Roma says situation is approaching humanitarian catastrophe. Roma cannot even leave; they do not have enough for the journey", published by Slovak newspaper Sme web site on 30 September; subheadings as published:

    The situation of Slovak Roma is worsening. At lower social levels it is taking on the "dimensions of a humanitarian catastrophe", a report drawn up by the International Organization for Migration [IOM] for the Czech Government states. The organization has carried out field research on whether there is a danger of a wave of migration of our [Slovak] Roma to the Czech Republic.

    The organization has recorded cases of Roma children being forced to eat grass and of a husband selling his wife into prostitution so that he could pay his debt to a loan shark. More and more Roma are ceasing to pay their rent.

    The report states that, since the implementation of social welfare and health reform, the health of Roma has been worsening and their children have been suffering from malnutrition. The number of visits to the doctor has rapidly declined "because of the inability of the parents to pay 20 Slovak korunas [Sk] for attending a doctor's surgery".

    Martina Juraskova of the Institute for Public Affairs says that they assumed the reforms would have such an impact. Government commissioner Klara Orgovanova concedes that the report's conclusions are in accord with the letters that her office is receiving. The letter-writers mostly complain about "insufficient money for anything at all" and loss of housing and work.

    Martin Danko, Social Affairs Ministry spokesman, claims that it is a case of a "wider social problem" which no-one has resolved in a systematic way for decades. "We do not agree that social reform has radically changed the life situation of Roma," he said. According to him, the reform encourages Roma precisely to be more active and adopt a new approach to welfare benefits.

    Roman Kristof of the IOM admits that the situation is "undoubtedly the result of state policies over the last decades". However, at the same time, he criticizes the Slovak ministry for setting the workfare contributions badly. The report states that "they definitely do not fulfil the function of encouraging people to look for work" and merely "preserve the state of work immobility through work without future prospects in the place of residence".

    Kristof says that the "desperate situation" of the Roma is paradoxically reducing the level of their migration to the Czech Republic, because "they have a problem in getting even to the nearest town".

    Report on situation of Roma

    The Prague branch of the IOM has been preparing a report on the situation of Roma regularly since last year, when it monitored how many Roma were coming to the Czech Republic and where they were settling. Since the social unrest at the beginning of the year, it has been preparing a report for the Czech government on whether, as a result of social reform, large groups of Roma are planning to emigrate to the Czech Republic.

    Here we give some selections from the last report, which maps the situation in eastern Slovakia from the start of May until the beginning of September:

    Health of Roma

    Their state of health is getting worse, especially that of children. Infant mortality is three times the Slovak average.

    Visits to children's doctors are declining. These doctors are beginning to waive fees for medical examinations. However, parents are mostly not collecting prescribed medicines because of top-up charges and 20 korunas per prescription.

    Living and social situation

    The situation of the "relatively stabilized layer of Roma who, with the pre-reform benefits, were capable of managing their finances well and maintaining a living standard at a relatively acceptable level" is deteriorating. In the case of groups at a lower social level the situation is taking on the form of a "humanitarian catastrophe".

    The most frequent source of funds is workfare projects. However, according to the IOM, these do not fulfil the task of "encouraging the active search of employment" and there are not enough of them for everyone. Types of work involved are often work for fellow citizens or the collection of used raw materials, which often spills over into theft. In the summer, they gather forest fruits or resort to theft of crops from fields. In cities, they sift through rubbish collections.

    In rented accommodation the number of those with rental arrears is growing.

    Migration and usury

    Local elites and middle-class families are migrating for work to EU countries, especially to Belgium, but also to the Czech Republic and Hungary. However, overall migration is decreasing because of the high costs of travel. In the Czech Republic, moreover, there is strong competition from the Slovak [ethnic] majority and Ukrainians, who are also looking for work. When a Roma emigrates for work, then most frequently this has been found for him by a relative who already works abroad. However, cases have also appeared in which the work was mediated by a loan shark and the Roma had to hand over a part of their earnings in order to pay off a debt.

    The organization even recorded a case of a wife being sold into prostitution so that the family could pay a debt to a loan shark. There is an increase in such cases. There is also an increase in cases of Roma migrants from children's homes and rehabilitation facilities who search for work or family in the Czech Republic but end up in prostitution. These cases concern especially homosexual prostitution; a case at the central railway station in Prague has been documented.


    Contributions for food, given by the Labour Ministry, constitute a good motivation for attendance at basic school. These contributions at least partially resolve the problem of malnutrition. However, parents do not wish to send their children to school because in the case of poor attendance child benefit payments are paid to a special recipient - the municipality. In this way parents wish to prevent the benefit money getting to loan sharks. There is a rising unwillingness to send children to middle schools, especially those far from the place of residence. Therefore, schools are opening "detached classes".

    Source: Sme web site, Bratislava, in Slovak 30 Sep 04


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