Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban drew fire from rights groups and the Roma minority Friday after he blasted a court award of compensation to Roma families over a school segregation case.
Orban said a recent court ruling awarding compensation to the families of some 60 Roma children in the eastern Hungarian town of Gyongyospata for being taught separately from other children was "deeply unfair".
Questioning the definition of segregation of pupils Orban told a press conference in Budapest Thursday that "people's sense of justice has been infringed".
"I'm not from Gyongyospata but if I lived there then I too would also ask how this is possible, that for some reason, members of an (...) ethnic group living in the same community, the same village as me receive large amounts of money without doing any kind of work for it," he said.
The Hungarian Civil Liberties Union (TASZ) said the remarks were "unacceptable and outrageous" and would "stoke further prejudice against the Roma".
The precedent-setting case was brought against the educational authorities and the local municipality by the Chance for Children Foundation NGO, which represented the children's families.
The court in Debrecen, eastern Hungary, determined last September that between 2004 and 2017 the Roma children suffered discrimination by being segregated from non-Roma classmates in a Gyongyospata primary school.
As well as receiving inferior education for half that period in a separate part of the school, witnesses also said the children were stopped from joining swimming lessons, computer classes, or school outings.
Compensation of between around 1,000 and 11,000 euros ($1,100-$12,200) was awarded to the families depending on how long their children had spent in the school.
Segregation on ethnic grounds is illegal in Hungary but the practice is widespread, particularly in areas with large Roma populations.
A group representing the Roma community in Gyongyospata "called for calm and responsible attitudes by all concerned" after Orban's remarks.
Earlier in January the local MP from Orban's ruling Fidesz party said local Roma were also responsible for the situation and called the case a "money-grabbing stunt by the Soros network," a reference to liberal US billionaire George Soros.
Often blamed for petty crime, the Roma, Hungary's largest ethnic minority, face widespread discrimination, poverty and exclusion from mainstream society, and sometimes racially-motivated violence.
In 2011 Gyongyospata was the scene of clashes between local Roma and a far-right vigilante group that held an intimidating rally there.