Prague’s Libuš district is home to a sprawling Vietnamese market called Sapa and is one of the main centres of the Vietnamese community in the Czech Republic. The local town hall has recently complained of growing tension between the Czech and Vietnamese communities in the area, where they say the latter is forming a ghetto. Although the police have noted no significant increase in crime, the district mayor has warned of problems on the horizon.
Out of a population of roughly 10,000 residents in Prague’s Libuš district, more than two thousand are foreigners with residence permits. With the Sapa Vietnamese marketplace in the area, it is considered the main hub for the Vietnamese community in the Czech Republic, often called Little Hanoi. Officials in the area say that as the marketplace continues to grow, relations between the Czech and Vietnamese communities there are changing for the worse. The mayor, Petr Mráz, sent a letter to the Ministry of the Interior warning that the situation has reached a point where locals may form what he called ‘militias’ to patrol local areas – a shocking claim that was confirmed by deputy mayor Pavla Jedličková, who heads the district’s committee for multicultural coexistence.
“According to our information as well as that of the police, there are drugs there, people are using the corridors as toilets, they are violating the night-time noise limits, and so on.”
Nonetheless, the police department says there has been no significant increase in crime at the marketplace or nearby areas. Ms. Jedličková says that is only because the problems go largely unreported.
“We have been struggling with this ever since we started doing integration activities, because according to police statistics this part of town is relatively quiet, and the police don’t register increased crime, because people don’t report it. They come to us, the representative council – they don’t go to the police.”
The letter from Mayor Mráz to the ministry criticises the state for allowing the creation of a huge and independent Vietnamese “town” within a small district not prepared for such a high level of migration. He cites the “logical” tension created by a huge concentration of foreigners from a country so culturally different. The head of the Czech-Vietnamese Association, Marcel Winter, charges that the situation is being exaggerated:
“We need to tell the whole truth: these flats are rented out to the Vietnamese by Czech citizens, not Martians, and why do they rent them to them? Because they pay in cash, they pay in advance, and they have no debts among them. If there are criminals among the Vietnamese, you’d better believe that there are criminals among the Czechs as well, and there is no way to generalise this.”
Mr Winter cites the high level of education among the Vietnamese and the shame the community suffers when indeed one of their members is responsible for a crime. And he says there may be other reasons for why the situation is being made into a cause.
“There is another very interesting opinion about why someone would want to run the Vietnamese out of the area. A year ago, a Vietnamese company in the area bought an industrial plant there for 750 million crowns and it was later realised that the plot ends right next to the entrance to a future metro station there. It’s a very lucrative piece of property that they say supermarkets are interested in. So it’s well possible that there is an attempt to worsen the image of the Vietnamese here to create discontent in the foolish hope that they will be expelled and their property nationalised.”
Until now the district has worked on integration programmes in cooperation with the Vietnamese community itself, but claims of ghettoisation and the threat of militias could itself damage local relations.
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