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Romanies calling on government for protection in the wake of vicious arson attack
21-04-2009 - Daniela Lazarova
Saturday’s vicious attack on a Romany family in Vitkov, north Moravia, remains at the centre of public and media attention. Although a racial motif has not been officially confirmed, Romanies in the region say they fear for their lives and many have criticized the government for allegedly doing next to nothing to protect the country’s minorities from growing extremism

Photo: CTK Two-year-old Natálka remains in critical condition in an Ostrava hospital where her parents are also recovering from serious burns. Of the eight member household they alone failed to get out in time, after attackers threw petrol bombs through the windows of their house in the middle of the night. Although their relatives tried to put the fire out, someone had shut off their water supply. The horror of this story has shocked the nation and the emerging facts have increased suspicions of a racially-motivated attack. Kumar Vishwanathan, a social worker active in the region, says the mood among the local Roma is a mixture of fear and anger.

“I think people are very disturbed, people are extremely concerned about what is happening. There is a feeling among the Roma community that they have no support here, no friendly face in the government, that there is no concern on the part of the government regarding their fate. That is a big problem. People are thinking of different options, some are thinking of leaving the country, some are thinking about creating self-help vigilante groups to protect their children on their way to school and others yet are calling for tit-for-tat actions. The response is very diverse, but in general people are extremely, extremely disturbed.”

Many Roma families in town have not sent their children to school since the incident and some are considering putting iron bars across their windows. Some Romany organizations are advising Roma people to sell their houses and flee the Czech Republic, others are calling on the government to stand up to growing neo-Nazism and extremism and are collecting signatures under a petition titled “Enough!”. Never has pressure on the administration been so strong. This, just days after Canada complained about the growing number of Romany asylum seekers from the Czech Republic, saying it was now taking in more refugees from the Czech Republic than from Iran or Afghanistan. The outgoing Czech government met to map out a possible course of action on Monday, with Prime Minister Mirek Topolánek saying he wanted a combination of repressive and preventative measures. The new strategy is to be unveiled in a fortnight’s time and while there is general approval for measures to fight extremism, there are many who remain skeptical regarding the chances of a significant improvement in the near future. Those packing their bags say they’ll wait to see it from a distance.

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