Dozens of Roma families living in rental accommodation in the north-eastern Czech town of Ostrava face being forcibly evicted over the weekend, Amnesty International and European Roma Rights Centre said as they requested local authorities to explore all feasible alternatives first.
On Friday morning the head of Ostrava’s construction office delivered an eviction notice to more than 40 Roma families living in rented housing on Prednadrazi Street, giving them just over 24 hours to leave the premises voluntarily. If the inhabitants fail to leave, they risk having the police enforce the eviction order.
Although 14 families were provided with contracts for alternative housing in dormitories, Amnesty International is concerned that some of them signed the agreements under duress – some residents have told the organization they do not want to move.
The authorities have not provided the remaining 30 families with alternative housing arrangements yet.
“Eviction should only be carried out as a last resort, after Ostrava authorities have explored all other feasible alternatives,” said Jezerca Tigani, Europe and Central Asia Deputy Programme Director at Amnesty International.
“If an eviction is found to be the only workable option, nobody should be left homeless and the authorities must ensure that any alternative accommodation complies with the criteria for adequate housing.”
International criteria for adequate alternative housing include stipulations on the size, affordability and location of the accommodation, as well as its accessibility to essential services.
The dormitories that have been offered as alternative housing for some of the Roma families are inadequate as they assign in most cases one room to each family – some of which have up to nine members. Several families would have to share cooking and sanitation facilities.
Rental prices for a room at the dormitories are more than double what the families are currently paying for a flat – raising serious concerns about their ability to afford the proposed alternative.
Ostrava’s construction office has reportedly justified the planned eviction by claiming the residences on Prednadrazi Street are unsafe for human habitation due to damage to the structure and electrical installations, as well as inadequate sanitation.
Amnesty International and European Roma Rights Centre have learned that the sanitation problem was caused by a failure of the property owner and local authorities to maintain the sewerage system – which has left numerous houses polluted with raw sewage.
Since local authorities failed to consult the Roma families adequately before the planned eviction and provided only a day’s notice, the organizations are concerned that it will amount to an illegal forced eviction.
Numerous residents have not been adequately informed about the alternative housing options available to them.
“The Czech authorities must engage in genuine consultation with the affected Roma families before forging ahead with eviction plans,” said Dezideriu Gergely, Executive Director of the European Roma Rights Centre.
“They should also engage in genuine consultation with the affected Roma to develop long-term housing solutions that meet the established criteria for affordability, access to adequate space, and access to sanitation and essential services.”
The Czech Republic is party to a range of international and regional human rights treaties aimed at restricting, refraining from or preventing forced evictions.