Czech Republic: Romani ghetto residents fear their children will be institutionalized
Residents in the ghetto on Přednádraží street in Ostrava are concerned that social workers will institutionalize their children because of the unsuitable conditions in which they are now living there. Social workers have allegedly threatened to do so if the families do not move out of the buildings which the Building Works Authority has called hazardous to human life, according to activist Kumar Vishwanathan, who is helping the local residents. The central Municipal Department of Moravská Ostrava and Přívoz, however, rejects the allegation that it has placed any kind of pressure on the residents.
"I have reports from people who have been insisting recently that bureaucrats have been visiting them every day saying that if they do not move out, their children will be taken away from them. Many people have claimed this to me," Vishwanathan said. However, he personally has not witnessed any such threats being made.
Vishwanathan said 22 families are still living in the locality, a total of more than 80 people. "There are 15 families with children, a total of 46 children," he said.
Jana Pondělíčková, spokesperson for the central municipal department, said the authorities are not planning to take any of the children into institutional care. "Our social workers are definitely not threatening the families with any such thing. They go to the site daily and offer to accommodate the families in the spaces available in the residential hotels, or they help them resolve their welfare issues, even though welfare is disbursed through the Labor Office," she said.
The biggest problems in the ghetto started in July, when the water company stopped serving local people there because of unpaid bills. People got water for several weeks from tanks brought in and paid for by donors. In the end, the landlord paid off some of the bills and water service was restored to a single shared tap. Then, several days ago, the electricity was turned off to some of the buildings. Vishwanathan says it does not work in three of the six inhabited buildings now.
"We disconnected three addresses on Přednádraží street from the network because we don't have any subscribers there. We did it for preventive and safety reasons," ČEZ spokesperson Jaroslav Jurča said. Vishwanathan said some of the residents have contracts directly with the electric company, while others had arranged their power supply through landlord Oldřich Roztočil.
Roztočil said he wants to resolve the problem of the power being shut off but is momentarily suffering from health problems himself. He also said that while 47 % of the residents paid their rent in June, only 15 % of them did so in July and none are paying rent to him now.
Marek Czaniecki, director of the children's diagnostic institute in Bohumín and other staffers held a meeting with Czech Labor and Social Affairs Minister Jaromír Drábek today about the situation on Přednádraží street. Czaniecki considers the state of the locality alarming and wrote a letter to the minister pointing out that the children living there might soon end up placed in orphanages.
"I am quite outraged by the whole situation and I am very concerned (on the basis of years of experience) that the children really will soon be removed from their families on Přednádraží street and placed into orphanages," his letter reads. Czaniecki is asking the minister to intervene so that no one will have to remove the children from the care of their parents on the basis of their current social situation.