Credit: JMK

Czech Government To Launch Voluntary Return Program For Ukrainian Refugees

The Czech government will help 430 Ukrainians with temporary protection in the Czech Republic return to their homeland, under a pilot assistance program scheduled to run for six months from June to November this year, and approved by the government yesterday.

For 400 of the refugees, the state will provide bus tickets from the Czech Republic to their nearest place of residence in Ukraine. The remaining 30 people, with complicated health conditions, will receive individual assistance and the provision of medical transport services. The project is not related to the conscription of Ukrainians, but will apply to people who want to return home for health or family reasons, the Interior Ministry told CTK.

Industry Minister Jozef Sikela (STAN) announced the approval of the program after the cabinet meeting.

The scheme is intended for people who have been granted temporary protection, but also those already granted international protection who wish to return home for health or family reasons, for example.

The program is based on the fifth amendment to the “lex Ukraine”, signed by President Petr Pavel at the end of last year. According to the legislation, Ukrainian refugees fleeing the Russian military invasion can extend their temporary protection in the Czech Republic until the end of March 2025. However, the period during which they can live in free emergency accommodation has been shortened, and the rules in case of expulsion have been tightened.

Temporary protection allows refugees to access public health insurance, education, and the labour market. The amendment also enabled the government to set rules for financial support for foreigners who decide to return to Ukraine voluntarily. Refugees will only be able to use assisted voluntary return once.

The Interior Ministry has prepared another amendment to the lex Ukraine, which will allow economically self-sufficient refugees to obtain long-term residence in the Czech Republic.

As of early April, there were 339,000 refugees from Ukraine with temporary protection, including both those who have extended their protection and refugees who have applied for it this year. One year earlier there were 325,742 people with temporary protection. Some 320,000 of those applied for an extension of temporary protection until March next year, while the rest have applied for protection since the beginning of this year. About 55,000 people did not extend their temporary protection this year, while about 4,300 people switched to another residence status.

Almost two-thirds of the refugees are women, and about a quarter are children under 18. Since the start of the Russian invasion of Ukraine in February 2022, the Czech Republic has issued almost 600,000 temporary protections, half of which have expired.

According to data from the Ministry of Labour and Social Affairs from early April, about 123,000 refugees from Ukraine are working in the Czech Republic. An increasing number of them are paying contributions from their employment or agreements, around 90%, up from 45% less than two years ago.

The institution of temporary protection is limited at European level until the end of March 2025. EU representatives will discuss the way forward by the end of June.

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