Commentary: Czech Govt Human Rights Commissioner declares her strong opposition to racially-motivated differential treatment of refugees, calls for solidarity
Since 2001, 20 June has been internationally recognized as World Refugee Day. This day is meant to remind us that there are millions of people in the world who are still being forced to leave their countries by wars, occupations, natural disasters, persecution and violence committed against them on the basis of their race, faith, nationality, poltiical opinions, sexual orientation or for other reasons. The number of such persons keeps rising and currently is close to 90 million people worldwide. International law gives each human being the right to seek refuge from such persecution in another country and to find asylum there. Countries must receive such people onto their territories and should provide them with some form of protection that makes it possible for them to live in dignity, without fear, and to freely be themselves, just like the rest of us. These basic principles should decidedly not be forgotten by us right now.
For the Czech Republic, the refugee subject has currently become quite topical because of the war in Ukraine. The ongoing war has driven almost eight million people from that country so far, and in the Czech Republic, as of 20 June, more than 378,000 of them have been registered and given temporary protection. On this occasion I would like to express my immeasurable gratitude to all those who have contributed, in whatever way, to helpfully, successfully receiving them, and my gratitude for the fact that these refugees, despite what Russia's aggression in Ukraine has forced them to live through, have been able to feel safe and welcomed in the Czech Republic. I do comprehend the fact that given the grim development of the situation, the degree of the Russian aggression, and the high number of such persons, their reception has not always been easy. I would hereby like to express my appreciation all the more for the good will and hard work of all who have dedicated themselves to receiving and integrating refugees from Ukraine and who continue to devote themselves to this task, whether they work for the governmental authorities, the regional authorities, the local authorities, the non-governmental organizations, the many firms who have been involved, as well as the countless individuals acting in their personal capacity.
However, we must not forget that after the initial reception of refugees into the Czech Republic it is necessary to work on integrating them into Czech society. Given the high numbers of refugees, this frequently poses new, significant challenges for us, requiring that we find new solutions that have yet to be tested. In some cases, errors and mistakes are made. Nevertheless, we should not slack in our efforts to provide each refugee from Ukraine with a reception that is correct and dignified, and we should facilitate their finding convenient locations for their lives in the Czech Republic now. We should do our best to have empathy for the positions of those who frequently lost everything in their homeland and were unable to bring anything with them, or to bring very little. These people do not know the rules of living in the Czech Republic, this is not familiar territory to them, they frequently do not speak our language. For that reason it is not possible, in my view, to always apply the same rules to them as are applied to Czech citizens.
To give one practical example, it is true that the Czech state does not pay for the health insurance of the average adult citizen or resident here. Nevertheless, if refugees from Ukraine want to begin working in the Czech Republic now and to join the public health insurance system, they must enroll their school-aged children in an educational facility. If this does not happen, then in practice they will be unable to join the employment process and they will have to pay for their health insurance themselves, which can represent a financial problem for them. The establishment of this system, therefore, should always take into account all the details of what can happen down the line.
At the same time, I would decidedly like to strongly object to differentiating among the refugees on the basis of their race or any other attributes and denying them aid and support on that basis. I can comprehend that some groups of refugees represent a more distinct challenge for the Czech state administration bodies and for local authorities. That is why it is all the more necessary to find a way forward to meet this challenge, though, not to shift the problem onto others. I am doing my best to resolve the situations of the Romani refugees from Ukraine in Brno and Prague and I believe that together, if we collaborate with each other and put our minds to it, we will successfully resolve these questions as well.
In closing, I would like to say that Czech society has approached the resolution of the crisis around the refugees from Ukraine actively and with solidarity for their fellow human beings, frequently showing great self-sacrifice and the will to provide them aid. Overall, I think we have coped with this crisis well, more or less. The war on Ukraine is continuing, unfortunately, and while the numbers of arrivals appear to be declining at the moment, the related challenges continue to arise and to persist. I would not like to see us let up on our efforts to continue the good that has been done, both in regard to our reception and integration of refugees, and in regard to our tolerance for and understanding of their difficult situations and the problems they may encounter in our country. Let's keep in mind that these are people like us, that until recently they lived lives similar to ours, and that together we can assist them with returning to living their own lives soon, at least somehow. By doing so, we will also be fulfilling the humanist tradition of Czech society, which has been demonstrated so often in the past. Once again, I thank you all for all you have done.
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