Malév refused to board a Romani passenger
Malév Hungarian Airlines refused to check-in a Romani man scheduled to fly to Toronto from Budapest's Ferihegy Airport. Mr János Bogdán was told that he had insufficient documentation for travel to Canada. Bogdán's non-Romani wife and her child, carrying the same documents as Bogdán, were not refused check-in.
Malév argues that the random inspection of travel documents is a routine procedure intended to protect the carrier from being responsible for assisting passengers who are refused entry by immigration authorities on their return home. Bogdán, who has since sued the airline, is convinced that Malév's decision was racially motivated.
Bogdán believes that he was refused check-in because he is a Rom. He alleges that Malév thought that since he is a Rom, he would attempt to claim asylum in Canada. Malév refuses the accusation that they impose a racially biased policy during random inspections. According to Malév, all carriers inspect the travelers' documents to minimize the risk of forced return. Malév Hungarian Airlines reportedly suffered a HUF 20 million (roughly USD 69,750) loss last year for flying home passengers who were denied entry at their respective destinations.
Bogdán turned to the Hungarian Helsinki Committee seeking legal assistance and filed a lawsuit reclaiming the airfare and HUF 500,000 (approximately USD 1744) for non-pecuniary damage. Mr Ferenc Kőszeg, the president of the Hungarian Helsinki Committee, stated that the only legitimate reason for refusing to board a passenger with a valid ticket is that he or she has bogus travel documents.
Czech Airlines followed a similar practice until mid-1999, when they marked lists of passengers with capital letter "G" for "Gypsy" next to names of persons they believed to be Roma to warn British immigration officials of potential asylum-seekers.
Roma should assert their ethnicity
The National Roma Self-Government called upon the Romani community to proclaim their ethnicity during the national census scheduled to take place in February. "We should profess ourselves Roma with decorum so that our children and grandchildren can do so as well," said Flórián Farkas, president of the Roma group. Farkas thinks no one has any reason to be afraid, as the census is conducted anonymously, and everyone can freely choose their ethnic identity. "Finally we can prove how many of us live in this common motherland, where everyone is entitled to human and minority rights."
Extremist youth to assemble in Budapest
On 13 February, the neo-fascist Hungarian National Liberty Party (Magyar Nemzeti Szabadság Párt) is organizing a meeting to commemorate the "heroic deeds of the Hungarian-German allied forces." Supporters will not be permitted to repeat their scandalous 1999 march through the Castle District in Budapest, but reportedly they have already received permission from the police to convene at nearby Batthyány Square.
The right-wing extremists expect visiting groups from Germany, Austria, Slovakia and Transylvania. According to the Act on Assembly, the police cannot lawfully deny issuing a permit if the applicant meets all the criteria set by law. According to a Budapest police spokesperson, the characteristic raising of the arm [a symbolic gesture reminiscent of Nazi sympathizers] does not qualify as a criminal act.
Social situation of Roma is not stable
Oscillation between extreme poverty and relative prosperity characterizes life for Romani families in the Czech Republic. According to Matej Sarkoezi, a Romani advisor at the municipality office in Strakonice in South Bohemia, employment opportunities are quite plentiful during the summer months. During this time Roma usually take "occasional jobs" at construction sites doing work no one else is interested in doing.
However, once winter sets in with low temperatures construction work stops and Roma can no longer find employment. Although they register with the unemployment offices and keep looking for work, frequently potential employers refuse them because they are Roma. As a result of employment discrimination, "during winter, Roma survive on unemployment benefits," says Sarkoezi.
This alarming trend is troublesome because during winter Roma often slip into a situation where they are not able to pay rent, says Sarkoezi. Once in debt they are also charged an additional fee for failing to pay on time.
Strakonice municipality pays regular attention to the issue of housing Roma. According to Sarkoezi, "11 flats would solve the biggest crises in the housing situation of Roma in Strakonice." The chance to get a flat is very small. "The city registers 400 applicants for housing," says Sarkoezi. In the meantime, the non-payers are shifted to the asylum housing, where minimal living standards are the norm.
However, according to some critics of this social policy scheme, the asylum housing is not cheap nor does it offer a way out for those who would like to repay their debts.
Government supports affirmative action for Roma
The deputy Prime Minister Pavel Rychetsky called for affirmative action for Roma in a discussion in the Parliament. He said that the government wants to offer several programs for Roma aimed at equalizing their position with the majority population. Individual projects will concern education, public and private employment. In his own words, "the biggest handicap of Roma remains in education and qualification, their community lives in (the) worst social, housing and health conditions."
The government plans to offer benefits to companies who will employ Roma, and give easier access to "Roma companies" (for example companies where at least 60 percent of the employees are Roma). Other improvements in Roma policy include financial aid for 1500 Romani students and a new health program that intends to fight disease inside Roma communities.
Some of the MPs criticized the government for not putting enough effort into building housing for Roma and expressed concern that they ignored Roma family values. Romani MP Monika Horakova of the Union of Liberty Party expressed concerns about drug abuse amongst Roma teenagers.
Canadian government supports the village Svinia
USD 500,000 of support was received at the Svinia village to fund a project aimed at improving Roma living conditions. The project received support from the Canadian International Development Agency back in 1998.
The second phase of the project started in January 2001 and will last for another three years. It aims at developing community life and achieving self-sustainability. The project has already established a kindergarten, and courses and skill workshops for adult Roma. Woodcraft, sewing and book binding workshops have taken place. According to the CER information, the municipality office has been fully involved in the project.
Eva Sobotka, 9 February 2001
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