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Last Updated: Monday, 4 July, 2005, 09:17 GMT 10:17 UK
Prague homeless face rising abuse
Tram in Prague
Homeless people say they are often attacked when they board the tram
Attacks on homeless people in Prague have increased in recent months - including several cases where people sleeping on trams had petrol poured over them and were set alight, according to a leading Czech homeless organisation.

The fire attacks have occurred on Prague's trams, which many of the city's 4,500 homeless travel on each day, often sleeping on them in the evening.

Dagmar Kotmankova, co-founder of Novy Prostor - a Prague magazine sold by and for the benefit of homeless people - says homelessness is a relatively new phenomenon in the Czech capital and people have very little sympathy.

"Homeless people's daily experience is that if they are standing on their pitches with the magazine, one in every five people will say 'Find a job, move away, you're the rubbish of our society'," she told BBC World Service's Outlook programme.

"This is a small attack. But the other extreme is when people were burned in a night tram."

'Brutal and sadistic'

Ms Kotmankova said there were so many attacks on the homeless it was possible to identify three different types of attacker.

They include young people, often drunk, who do it to alleviate boredom; older people struggling with work or relationships, who "ventilate their own problems in this way"; and other people she described as "brutal and sadistic."

Elderly homeless woman
Homeless people are normal people - anyone can become homeless
Blanka Kader-Jarbkova,
"They attack homeless people because they know the police will not investigate so much," she said.

"It is different if they attack an old woman or a young lady - then, society will ask what's going on. But if it is only a homeless people, the reaction is not as extreme."

Prague authorities and non-profit homeless organisations have only 700 beds in total, so many homeless resort to staying in night trams.

Prague's tram line is very long, and the homeless say they can sleep for an hour and a half on a journey.

Blanka Kader-Jarbkova, 59, who has been homeless for three months since losing her flat, is one tram sleeper who has suffered several verbal attacks.

She says a typical day "begins and ends with the tram".

"I ride the trams from one end of the line to the other," she said.

"When it gets to the terminus, I'm woken up by the tram driver in a very rude manner. They shout at us. There are lots of us homeless riding the trams.

"I don't ride alone - I was riding with a gentleman who is 70. He has pains in his legs.

"As soon as he gets on the tram they shout at him. It is so humiliating. They were shouting at us even though we hadn't done anything - and had even bought a ticket so we could go to the end of the line."

Negative attitude

Prague's homeless situation started after 1989 and the Velvet Revolution which saw the country abandon communism.

Until then, factories had often had accommodation so workers would have somewhere to live, even if they had no home themselves.

Ms Kader-Jarbkova said she felt the public continued to have a very negative attitude to the homeless.

"The public sees the homeless in general as dirty - rolling around on the pavement begging," she said.

"But homeless people are normal people. Anyone can become homeless."

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