Above-Czech volunteers and an anti-refugee protest - the good eggs and the bad apples
The dark side of the Czech Republic’s feelings towards refugees is well documented. Recently, Miloš Zeman, the Czech Republic’s president, has likened the refugee crisis to an illegal invasion, and has even crazily suggested that troops be deployed to drive them back.
Thousands of people across the Czech Republic took to the streets in protest, not at their leader’s idea of fighting fear with fire, but to demonstrate against the refugees entering their country. Zenman also attended an anti-Islam protest and even took to the stage to tell the thousands gathered, that those against Islam and refugees should not be branded racist.
Czech police made headlines with reports that they have been marking the refugees with numbers as they arrest them on trains, a move that has been likened to Nazi Germany’s treatment of Jews en route to the concentration camps. The detention centres have also come under fire recently. Anna Sabatova, the Czech Ombudswoman described the conditions as being so bad, they violate the Convention on Fundamental Human Rights and Freedoms as well as the Convention on the Rights of the Child. Anna recently told a press conference –
“The children are traumatised by seeing their parents being transported to the facility in handcuffs and by being kept behind a four metre-high fence with barbed wire. What we also see as unacceptable is the evening counting of inmates, which involves waking the children up if they have already gone to sleep.
A recent poll carried out by the Czech Academy of Sciences, found that almost 70% of the Czech population are opposed to refugees entering their country, and there have even been reports of people being attacked for offering support to refugees. One such victim was simply defending the services of a café that publicly displayed solidarity with the refugees.
Thankfully, there are always good eggs amongst the bad apples, but the good deeds take a little bit of extra digging to uncover. There were counter protests at the anti-Islam demonstration, far outnumbered but with just as loud a voice.
An organization called ‘Association for migration and integration’, offer help to refugees and try to influence the local population, to try and cultivate tolerance towards refugees, and to fight any existing racism and xenophobia.
They are not alone in this field of work. There are also other migrations focused NGOs cooperating on various projects amongst themselves, and with partner organizations in other countries through European projects.
A charity organization called OPU provides lawyers free of charge for those seeking asylum, and for the refugees who find themselves imprisoned in the detention centres. Volunteers also visit the detention centres. They offer solidarity and take packages of clothes, books and cigarettes to the prisoners; all paid for from donations from the public.
On release from the detention camps, the refugees are sent on to their destinations by trains, often with no money due to having to pay for their own detention, and so a group of about two hundred and fifty volunteers take shifts in meeting the refugees on the trains at Prague’s main train station; offering advice, money, food and even a roof over their heads.
Some Czech companies have offered jobs to the refugees, with 5,000 positions available immediately. However, only 2 out of the 600 or so refugees that passed through the country during the last three-months have decided to apply for asylum.
Social media is playing its part too. Facebook groups have been set up for volunteers wishing to help the refugees. They are used to coordinate volunteers, to provide information on the numbers and locations of the refugees, and for those wishing to volunteer: to advertise and offer their skills.
There are many residents of the Czech Republic helping the migrants, not only in their home country but also in foreign lands. Some 3,500 citizens have left their country to help the refugees, distributing aid and equipment as well as helping to build shelters at the closed borders where the refugees congregate.
The Czech Prime Minister Bohuslav Sobotka is also a fan of the work of the NGO’s. At a recent meeting with them, he expressed his gratitude for the work they are doing and has promised to cooperate more in the future, an extremely important outcome.
With the recent Paris attacks, public opinion of the refugees is likely to be negative, but Marie Hermanova, the press and media support for the NGO’s, told me that the Czech media works alongside the migrant NGO’s, and that there is a good relationship between them. Marie said -
“The volunteers are now being blamed for having blood on their hands, like they are responsible for what happened. We are helping people who are fleeing from terrorist attacks and we are being blamed for helping terrorists. After Paris, this is more important than ever”.
The Czech people are split. On one hand you have the president and the right wing extreme groups, and on the other you have a strong volunteer movement. It is an extremely divided population. Marie added –
“We need to talk to each other, we need to understand each other, we, as volunteers who are helping refugees, need to talk to people who don’t want them here and are afraid. We need to find out why are they afraid, we need to share our stories, we need to listen to each other and be open”.
Educating the masses who agree with the president may seem like a large task, but there are it seems, more than enough people willing to take on the job, and if they can keep the Prime Minister and the media on board, their job will be that little bit easier.
By Lee Wright
Written originally in November the post remains relevant.
Lee is currently working in Belize doing an internship with an NGO.
He is looking for a career change from a financial background and into writing.
You can find Lee on twitter @leeroyjw
and at his online blog here
Amnesty highlights Czech treatment of refugees
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