People in Need on the issue of refugees and migration

Published: Aug 24, 2015 Reading time: 3 minutes
People in Need on the issue of refugees and migration

We are convinced that the Czech Republic (and Europe as a whole) should be open to refugees from war zones. Their reasons for seeking asylum are genuine and legitimate. This also applies to political, religious and other kinds of refugees who meet the terms of the Geneva Conventions. This is not the first time. In the 1990s, tens of thousands of refugees from former Yugoslavia and Chechnya, many of whom were Muslims, came to this country. No one was frightened, no one exploited the situation for hateful rhetoric and advertising based on exclusion. After wars ended in their countries, some of them returned to their homeland, while some stayed.

Currently, the actual number of refugees in the world is large – according to the UN, the number amounted to 19.5 million last year – and some of them want to go to Europe (over 600 000 people in 2014). In the past half century, however, Europe has received millions of people and such openness was always part of its policy.

The hysteria surrounding the decision to admit several hundred refugees to the Czech Republic (more specifically, 1500 people in the years 2015–2017) unfortunately comes during a difficult time. It comes at a time of fear and anxiety about the unstable political situation in the Middle East and Ukraine, the activities of the so-called Islamic State, but also a time of internal concern for the fate of a fluctuating Europe and the Czech Republic, which has long been led by visionless politicians. On the other hand, some Czech media significantly contribute to the spread of fear by presenting shocking, one-sided news about migration, simply to boost their own revenues. The situation is worsened by the reticence of our political representatives who are unable to adopt a stronger position on the issue, perceiving it primarily from a security perspective. Some politicians gain political points by promoting anti-refugee sentiments. We strongly condemn the proliferation of hate speech against refugees and other migrants adopted by an increasing number of people on Czech Internet.

Over the last twenty years, a comprehensive integration strategy has been created in the Czech Republic, enabling us to gradually integrate newly arrived migrants and refugees into society. Besides non-profit organizations dedicated to the integration issue, the state has progressively established centres promoting migrant integration in every region of the Czech Republic. Experiences from abroad show that locally implemented integration programs and the involvement of local governments renders the entire process more successful. In this respect, we welcome the recent declarations of support by churches, while unions will also likely get involved. We believe that for integration to be successful, integration policies should engage refugees and migrants as well as members of society, while clearly defining their mutual rights and obligations. The Czech government should clearly declare that it is the Czech Republic that sets the conditions for arriving asylum seekers and that the latter are not chaotically streaming crowds of refugees that no one can deal with.

An open attitude towards legitimate asylum seekers, whether for war-related or other reasons defined by the Geneva Conventions, does not imply, however, that we can open Europe to everyone. Developed countries have the right to influence and, if possible, manage the influx of economic migrants (those not escaping war or political, racial and other forms of persecution and who are not in danger), so that they can cope with it. There is a range of steps that can be taken, such as supporting the fight against organized crime connected with human trafficking across borders. This includes the funding of police forces, detection of criminal groups or the destruction of the means of transport. We also believe that EU countries must show solidarity, which especially applies to countries that do not bear the main brunt of the refugee inflow. At least a partial redistribution of costs and aid to incoming migrants is not only just, but also rational. Without it, countries facing the main brunt will sooner or later simply open their borders and say: Continue to other parts of Europe. If we were in the south of Europe, we would surely be already discussing the transfer of incoming migrants further north.