A Hungarian City Openly Against Its Roma

The Hungarian Ombudsperson found in his recent report that the local government of Miskolc has been seriously violating the right to equal treatment and other fundamental rights of the local Roma inhabitants by its discriminative measures, practices and regulations. The mayor of the city is determined in pursuing the discriminative policies.

Miskolc is the third largest city in Hungary with approximately 170.000 inhabitants. Based on the census data of 2011 and complementary estimations, around 13.500 persons live in 13 different segregated settlements, slums in the city. The 80 to 90 % of them are of Roma origin. The long-term unemployment rate among the population of the slums is very high; the dwellings are of extremely poor quality.

The Hungarian Civil Liberties Union and the Legal Defense Bureau for National and Ethnic Minorities filed a joint complaint to the Ombudsman for Fundamental Rights in March 2014. In the complaint they framed fundamental rights pleas in regards to the practice of joint inspections coordinated by Miskolc Municipality Police (MMP) and conducted in collaboration with partner agencies in segregated neighborhoods of Miskolc. The inspections involve checking compliance with the obligation of registering a home address; with animal-keeping regulations; existence of waste disposal agreements, renting agreements, and documents proving ownership. Public cleanliness inspections, public guardianship agency inspections, public utility inspections, and social administration inspections were also conducted. At some of the locations, authorities returned multiple times to conduct repeated inspections. The various authorities usually send large inspection teams to the targeted sites. In some cases, members of the teams opened the refrigerator and even searched the lavatory and the bathroom. Residents of the inspected neighborhoods feel threatened and harassed by the repeated, coordinated, raid-like joint inspections by official personnel.

In a subsequent complaint, the HCLU rebuked the May 8, 2014 amendment of the local housing decree of Miskolc Municipality, which adversely affected the predominantly Roma residents renting low comfort level municipality-owned dwellings. The amendment allowed for low-status residents in deep poverty, mostly Roma, to be relocated outside city limits. The complainant filed for the Ombudsman to appeal the amendment in the Constitutional Court.

In this filing, the HCLU also pointed out the illegal practices of Miskolc Real Estate Management Plc. (MIK) related to the ongoing eradication of one od the slums called “Numbered Streets”, and the obligations of the municipality to provide housing, basic needs services, and child-protection services.

The Ombudsperson’s comprehensive investigation ascertained the coordinated nature of the joint inspections and their planning, organization, and execution violated the principle of equal treatment. According to available documentation and data, more than 90% of these joint inspections in Miskolc took place in segregated neighborhoods where residents are financially disadvantaged, live in poverty, and are predominantly of Roma ethnicity. The comprehensive report therefore concluded that the unjustified, repeated inspections which singled out the segregated neighborhoods of Miskolc resulted in indirect ethnic, social and economic discrimination.

The report states that it is the Ombudsman’s and the Deputy Ombudsman’s firm opinion that the planning and execution of these practices fundamentally violate the right to equal dignity and the right to fair procedure. As a result, the democratic rule of law dictates that these practices, coordinated across several municipal agencies, must stop immediately. The only constitutional means to address the complex issues of poverty and segregation is through public policy. Accordingly, the Ombudsman and the Deputy Ombudsman emphasized the importance of ascertaining that such coordinated municipal actions will not be allowed in any Hungarian locality.

The investigation also revealed that two municipal decrees in Miskolc raised severe constitutional and legal concerns. As a result, the Ombudsman and the Deputy Ombudsman deemed it necessary to initiate an investigation by the competent government office, and to appeal to the Curia after the office declared the investigation ineffectual.

In the report, the Ombudsman and the Deputy Ombudsman also warned about the dire living conditions of the inhabitants of segregated settlements, and the consequences of living in these conditions. The number of municipal housing units suitable for human habitation is decreasing; in the meantime, the eviction rate among disadvantaged families is increasing, despite the moratoria in effect.

According to the report, for the effective prevention of mass homelessness and the protection of the rights of children at risk to become homeless, the relevant public bodies must immediately engage in a dialogue to coordinate actions and welfare measures. The report unequivocally states that beyond the previously mentioned constitutional concerns, neither the joint, recurring actions of local bodies, nor the evictions under way are suitable measures to eliminate the segregated settlements in Miskolc.

For reading the entire summary of the Ombudsman’s report, click here

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