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Driven out

April 22, 2011

Hundreds of Roma residents in a Hungarian village have fled their homes, fearing far-right vigilantes who set up a training camp nearby. The group denies trying to provoke the locals, but the Roma want more protection.

Roma women on board a bus, fleeing Gyongyospata in Hungary
Roma women boarded Red Cross buses to flee the villageImage: AP

Nearly 300 Roma women and children fled their homes in northeastern Hungary on Friday as members of a far-right group arrived for what was billed as a three-day "training camp."

The group, called Vedero (Defense Force), said they were holding exercises in the area over the Easter weekend but denied trying to provoke the local Roma community.

In the village of Gyongyospata, about 90 kilometers (55 miles) northeast of Budapest, 277 Roma women and children boarded five buses made available by the Red Cross on Friday.

"People have asked us to take the local children and women to a holiday camp in Csilleberc," in Budapest, Red Cross director Erik Selymes told the Hungarian news agency MTI. He added it was not clear how long they would stay.

Roma queuing to board a bus in Gyongyospata in Hungary
Roma leaders say 277 people were evacuated FridayImage: AP

Aladar Horvath, leader of the Roma Civil Rights Movement, accused the government of doing little to protect Roma families.

"Holding war games by Vedero during the Easter holiday goes beyond anyone's imagination," Horvath told the Reuters news agency. "The government is standing by, meanwhile, doing nothing. Police were ordered to Gyongyospata with a huge delay."

Government turns a blind eye

Like other vigilante groups in Hungary, Vedero enjoys the backing of the far-right Jobbik party, which gained 46 seats in the 386-member parliament in Budapest last year. Vedero's members wear military uniforms and have been patrolling the streets of Gyongyospata since last month, in what they say is an attempt to "restore order."

Local rights groups are planning to hold a demonstration in support of the Roma, and adult Roma men have agreed to remain in the village and help clean up afterwards.

Hungary has long struggled to integrate its minority Roma population, most of whom lost their jobs when communism collapsed. A generation has grown up since then with few memories of regular work.

Author: Joanna Impey (AFP, Reuters)
Editor: Nancy Isenson

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