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Forum for Human Rights (FORUM), based in the Czech Republic, focuses on international human rights litigation and advocacy in Central Europe. Its lawyers represent several strategic cases in the Czech Republic aimed at fighting discrimination against Roma.
FORUM cooperates with international and local Roma NGOs, and as lawyers can contribute to positive and informed discussion around Roma. FORUM also works with LGBT+ and disabled people and has collaborated with other actors working on hate speech.
For the Freedom From Hate project FORUM developed a campaign around housing in the city of Ústí nad Labem, addressing the existing injustices and popular stereotypes against Roma people.
Their campaign aimed to challenge the belief that Roma people live for free by showing that in many cases wealthy landlords charge the state higher than normal rates, in order to provide housing for Roma on benefits.
Those benefits go directly into the pockets of the landlords, who in the vast majority of the cases are not Roma, whereas the popular belief is that Roma people take advantage of the benefit system and pocket the money themselves.
Their campaign included infographics, articles and interviews with affected people. One of the key issues it highlighted was the existence of the city’s so-called ‘benefit free zones’ – areas where Roma are systematically excluded from to encourage them to move to other parts of the city.
(Translation) ‘A benefit free zone is a locality which has been declared by the local government to be an area with an increased incidence of socially undesirable phenomena’. ‘Creation of benefit free zones will not prevent creation and existence of ghettos, but it will only relocate the people to places where there will be even less opportunities to be included in general society’.
FORUM has also made several interviews with locals who in all cases preferred their names not to be published due to fears of repercussions.
(Translation) ‘Magda and Pavel are a Roma husband and wife who have four kids. The family used to live at the “Blue Housing Facility” in Ústí nad Labem which was closed in 2018. The family struggled to find new accommodation even though they had saved enough money to pay for all necessary expenses. The family had to spend one month during the summer in a local school’s sports hall which was provided to families in a similar situation (after the closure of the Blue Housing Facility). Eventually, the family managed to rent a studio flat in the most deprived area of the city “Nivy”. They had to pay high “entry” fees and the rent is three times higher than the average rent in regular localities for 3 bedroom flats. The family has had to face many issues which are connected with life in socially excluded neighbourhoods. The kids who live there are surrounded by drugs, diseases and very poor hygienic conditions.’
In this highly targeted campaign, FORUM managed to include not just the stories of affected people, but also hard facts and verifiable data against some of the common stereotypes and misconceptions about the Roma community. FORUM set up a dedicated Facebook page for the campaign, and committed to regular and varied posts targeting the specific area of Ústí nad Labem with some Facebook advertising.
As a result they built a very relevant and interested follower base to make their voice heard in the heated debate around housing in the city. If an issue has a local focus, campaigns like this can make a huge difference and through the local efforts can help to shape national debates.