War In Ukraine Transforms Czech Attitudes Towards Refugees In Just A Few Days

Strong expressions of solidarity from the Czech public and a willingness to provide various forms of assistance to refugees from Ukraine have changed Czech foreign and migration policy almost overnight. Photo credit: JMK

Czech Rep, March 8 (BD) – “For the last decade, and until a few weeks ago, the Czech public and politicians have perceived migration mainly as an unwelcome necessity or even as a threat,” said Robert Stojanov, an expert in migration at the Faculty of Economics and Business at Mendel University. “In the past, the presence of migrants in the Czech Republic was tolerated rather than welcomed, and the state’s migration policy was based on the simple assumption that migrants would leave once the demand for their labour ended. Therefore, the state did not support their settlement and further integration in the Czech Republic.”

The current situation has abruptly changed previous Czech foreign and migration policy, which was highly restrictive towards Middle Eastern immigrants coming from Syria, Iraq and Afghanistan, also similarly affected by war. “Ukrainian women and children were able to break the dam of the state’s reluctance to grant asylum and work permits. Perhaps an even more important impact is the fact that immigrants will no longer be just construction workers for the Czechs, but also people with their own sorrows, emotions and dreams of living a normal life like us. It is good that we welcome them here and are willing to help them or even share our homes,” said Stojanov.

According to the latest information, about 100,000 refugees took refuge in the Czech Republic before the war in Ukraine. The total number of Ukrainians fleeing the fighting has already reached 1.5 million, according to the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR). “This is the largest single migration flow since those that occurred after the aftermath of World War II in Europe and probably the fastest in the history of this continent,” Stoyanov said.

According to him, not only can we expect an increase in the number of these refugees up to 3-5 million or more, depending on the escalation of the conflict, but also an increasing number of internal refugees in Ukraine, who are usually much more numerous. These are people who, for a variety of reasons, are unable to leave their country and are stuck somewhere ‘in-between’, i.e. somewhere on the road between their home and a safe foreign country. “I believe that humanitarian aid should also be focused on these internal migrants in an effort to offer them at least basic security in the form of food, drink, basic hygiene, warmth and a place to sleep. And possibly try to get them to safety from the war-affected country,” Stoyanov said.

Apart from the lack of a sense of security as the most significant reason for the migration of refugees from war zones, there are other significant circumstances contributing to such a massive exodus from Ukraine. “These are the still existing transport infrastructure to the west and the migration networks built before the war. While the infrastructure is gradually being destroyed by the Russians weapons, the capacity of the migration networks will increase as the number of refugees outside Ukraine increases. Thus, people will know where they can move to, they will have news of what it looks like there and who they can come to,” Stoyanov said.

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