The first group of ethnic Czechs from eastern Ukraine, repatriated under a special government programme, has finally arrived in the Czech Republic, after nearly a year of negotiations. Another group is scheduled to arrive in the Czech capital by a special government plane in mid-March.
Forty-four people, including some 15 children, arrived at Prague’s Florenc station on Tuesday evening on a coach from Novhorodkivka, known in Czech as Čechohrad in eastern Ukraine, after more than 40 hours on the road.
The first group of ethnic Czechs are part of a larger group of 145 people who were granted a residence permit in the Czech Republic as of 1 March. Although they organised their journey by themselves, it will be partly covered by the Czech state.
Tomáš Hajšman, the head of the Interior Ministry’s migration and asylum policy department, says these people had contacted the ministry independently in the course of 2014 asking for help:
“We first chose those who were most at risk, so these people come from Eastern Ukraine, from the Doneck, Luhansk, Mariupol and Czechohrad regions, where the situation is getting really dangerous.
“Anyone who was interested could apply, as long as we were able to trace their Czech origin. Of course, we didn’t want to separate family members, so the group consists mainly of larger families.”
The Czech government has issued fast-track permanent residence to 145 ethnic Czechs in Ukraine to date, mainly to those living in the eastern part of the country, close to where the fighting has been taking place. Tomáš Hajšman outlines the conditions of the repatriation programme, for which the government earmarked 66 million crowns:
“They will have the best position among foreigners living in the Czech Republic, which means they will have permanent residence, temporary accommodation of up to six months, and they will also receive assistance, including language courses, and help in finding permanent housing and employment.”
The ethnic Czechs will also receive help from the Archdiocese Caritas Prague, an official partner of the repatriation programme, who will be assisting them with the practical aspects of their integration into the Czech society. As Tomáš Hajšman points out, for most of them, the language-barrier will be a problem, since they lived abroad for a long time.
“Most of them were part of an emigration wave that took place in the second half of the 19th century. The oldest generation still speaks Czech, and it is a very beautiful old Czech that we are not used to hearing nowadays. As for the younger expats they should not have a problem learning the language.”
There are still about 70 requests from ethnic Czechs from other regions in
Ukraine that are yet to be processed by the Ministry of Interior. Officials
expect that most of the ethnic Czechs who move to the Czech Republic will
settle in the country permanently.
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