Czech Republic 2017/2018
The government refused to participate in the EU mandatory refugee relocation quotas. Despite reforms, Roma pupils continued to be segregated in schools. An amendment allowing municipalities to declare zones of “socially pathological behaviour” with restricted access to housing benefits entered into force.
Discrimination – Roma
Right to education
One year after the reform of the primary education system that aimed to facilitate the inclusion of pupils from disadvantaged backgrounds into mainstream schools, Roma children continued to face discrimination in access to education. In July, the government published data which showed that over 24% of Roma pupils continued to be educated in ethnically segregated schools.
In March, a district court ordered a primary school in the city of Ostrava to apologize to two Roma pupils. The school had refused to register the pupils in 2014, claiming that it had reached full capacity. Legal guardians of the pupils complained that the director justified his decision by claiming that non-Roma parents could start removing their children from the school as there were already nine Roma pupils registered in that grade. The court held that a fear of “white flight” could not justify the treatment of pupils on the basis their ethnicity.
Right to housing
In July, an amendment to the law on welfare benefits entered into force and dozens of municipalities announced that they would restrict access to housing allowances. The amendment allows municipalities to declare zones of “socially pathological behaviour” where residents would be barred from claiming some housing allowances. This will affect new tenants or those who move to or within these zones. NGOs raised concerns that the new regulation would disproportionately affect Roma and poor people.
Refugees and asylum-seekers
The Czech Republic accepted only 12 asylum-seekers out of the 2,691 it had been assigned under the 2015 EU Emergency Relocation Scheme – which aimed to relocate refugees from EU member states such as Greece and Italy – by the end of the year. In June, the European Commission started infringement procedures against the Czech Republic, as well as Poland and Hungary, for refusing to participate in the scheme. In July, the government stated it would not accept any further asylum-seekers. In December, the European Commission decided to step up the action against all three countries and referred them to the Court of Justice of the European Union over their refusal to accept the asylum-seekers under the scheme.
There were 974 applications made for international protection by the end of the year. Thirteen people were successful in their applications; 79 applications were rejected. Sixteen asylum-seekers from Afghanistan were refused an extension to their temporary protection. The government continued to base such asylum decisions on its arbitrary designation of certain areas in Afghanistan as “safe”, despite evidence to the contrary and with violence continuing to escalate in Afghanistan during the year.
Racism and xenophobia
High-level government officials, including the President, made xenophobic statements about refugees and migrants. During the pre-election campaign, the Minister of Interior presented as a success the restrictive policies that led refugees to avoid the Czech Republic.
In February, the police discontinued their investigation into the 2016 death of a Roma man at a pizzeria in Žatec, determining that no crime had been committed. The man died after he was restrained by municipal police officers and some customers as a result of his allegedly aggressive behaviour. The victim’s family had filed a complaint against the police in January, alleging that the investigation was not thorough; their lawyer criticized the police for failing to secure the scene and evidence.
In May, the Council of Europe Commissioner for Human Rights urged the Czech authorities to remove a pig farm from the site of a former Nazi concentration camp, where most of the victims were Roma, in the village of Lety u Písku. While appreciating the government’s efforts to buy the land, the Commissioner was concerned over the length of the process, and the government’s repeated failure to remove the pig farm and create a memorial as a measure of reparation for the Roma who suffered and died there during the Second World War. In November, the government signed a contract to buy off the land from the owner of the pig farm and made a commitment to build a memorial on the site.
Security and human rights
The Czech Republic continued to export arms to countries where there was a substantial risk that such arms could be used to commit or facilitate serious human rights violations, including the unlawful use of force against protesters or opposition groups. In May, during an arms fair in the city of Brno, the President stated that the Czech arms industry needed to “export globally”, denying that the country had responsibility to prevent the re-export of its equipment to countries which are “not safe”.