It was with a heavy heart that we learned yesterday about the shocking death of 8 people in a fire in a so-called “care home” in Czechia. The fire also left 30 people injured.
We express our condolences to the families and friends of those who died. We stand in solidarity with the survivors and wish them a swift recovery.
We also wish to thank those who reacted to prevent further deaths and injuries, at the risk of their own safety.
While we wait for the outcome of the official investigation, we also wish to express our concerns regarding the current situation and some of the reactions that followed the fire:
When the news about the tragedy reached us, we were horrified and sad – but not surprised.
Blaming the residents without any proof is not acceptable
It is well known that “care” institutions of this kind are not suitable for living and represent a danger to the safety of their residents. As recently as last week, the Czech ombudswoman has warned about these exact risks that “care” institutions represent.
We were alarmed by the comments made by the mayor of Vejprty, the town that is responsible for running the “care home” where the fire took place. Immediately after the fire, without any proof, the mayor insinuated the residents themselves might be responsible, “having tried to set fire to the building before.” She also said the situation is a result of the residents “having too many rights these days” and asked the Prime Minister to look into this matter.
This type of comment is simply not acceptable. We understand the mayor was responding right after she was confronted with the immediate aftermath of the tragedy. However, this does not justify making statements like these. People with intellectual disabilities have the same rights as everyone else. This includes the presumption of innocence, and the right to adequate individual support and to live their lives as they wish (which also means being able to smoke cigarettes).
An institution like this is clearly not suitable for living
We also noticed with concern that officials including the Minister of Social Affairs have called for a reconstruction of the institution. Such a place is clearly not suitable for living, and the people there should be offered normal housing and community-based support.
We call on the Czech authorities to:
- Investigate properly and without prejudice the causes of the fire and why it resulted in so many people dead or injured.
As the organisation responsible for the “care home” was found excessively using medication on residents as recently as 2018, the investigation must provide answers also regarding what role this may have played in such a high number of casualties.
- Provide adequate support to the survivors and to the families and friends of those who died. This includes professional counselling to cope with the trauma caused as well as proper compensation.
- Provide the surviving residents with adequate housing and support in the community. A “Care” institution is not a place for anyone to live in and there should be no attempt to rebuild it. Instead, the money should be used to provide normal flats or houses and a community-based support.
- Take immediate measures to prevent such tragedies from happening again. These measures must include providing residents of “care homes” with adequate housing and community-based support, as is their right under Czech law, and ensuring safety for those living in “care homes” while they are there.
We also call on relevant authorities and political figures to issue a statement addressing the mayor’s insinuations and to publicly state the resident’s legal right to presumption of innocence and the right to live their lives fully and according to their own wishes.
Jyrki Pinomaa, president of Inclusion Europe, comments:
“Institutions are no safe places to live. This is what we have seen time and again, with scandals of abuse and mistreatment in different European countries. The fire in the Czech ‘care home’ is another incident in a long list. These senseless deaths, the suffering of those who were injured and the pain of the resident’s family members and friends could have been avoided. It would have been avoided if there had been no institution.“
About Inclusion Europe:
Inclusion Europe is an association of people with intellectual disabilities and their families in Europe. Since 1988, Inclusion Europe fights for equal rights and full inclusion of people with intellectual disabilities and their families in all aspects of life. The association has members in nearly 40 European countries.
About Inclusion Czechia:
Inclusion Czechia has been advocating for a better life for people with intellectual disabilities and their relatives for over 50 years. Given its 7,000 individual members and 57 regional branches, its work has a strong footing at all levels in Czechia.
Rytmus supports people with disabilities in their inclusion in daily life – in schools, at work, in their homes, during leisure activities. The organisation supports them in their rights.