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June 25, 2022



Czech bus drivers for refugees from Ukraine refuse to rescue Romani refugee mothers and children stuck on the Slovak border

7.3.2022 6:36
Romani refugees from Ukraine in the church at Pavlovce nad Uhom, Slovakia. (PHOTO:
Romani refugees from Ukraine in the church at Pavlovce nad Uhom, Slovakia. (PHOTO: "Czechs Are Helping" / Češi pomáhají)

It seems we in the Czech Republic might rightly be proud of the unprecedented rise of solidarity with the invaded country of Ukraine and the extensive assistance to refugees being offered by the Czech Government, companies, non-profit organizations and especially by the masses of ordinary people, many of whom were certainly previously terrified of war refugees from countries that are culturally and geographically more distant - but before we start getting too impressed with ourselves, we also need to admit the bad, distasteful things accompanying this current outpouring of aid which, even in this context, reveal the dark but well-known corners of our social conscience. One such thing happened on the afternoon of Saturday, 5 March, when a small NGO called Amaria, z.s. chartered a bus to one of the Slovak-Ukrainian border crossings.

The journey was paid for by the Central Bohemian Regional Authority of the Czech Republic. The bus drivers, during the entire journey, pretended to be volunteers when speaking with the Amaria, z.s. members.

The bus was delivering materials needed in different locations near the border where refugees have been waiting not just for hours, but even for days to be removed or transitioned to safety, and the plan was to bring refugees with children back to the Czech Republic. On the way there, the bus drivers began to think out loud about the "real" refugees who deserve help and those who are "just trying to take advantage" of the situation and improve their economic lot by migrating to a country that is richer.

Once we were on the scene, it was quickly (and, I admit, quite unsurprisingly) revealed to us where the line betwen "deserving" and "undeserving" was drawn in the drivers' minds - these people who, in their own words, "like to help where it is needed". Although the bus was still empty, the drivers - despite the protests and the weeping of the association members and organizers of the trip - absolutely decidedly refused to go to a village 10 km away to pick up a dozen mothers with children who had been freezing on the benches of an evangelical church for several days, a refuge that was absolutely, in health terms, unsatisfactory, and temporary, and from which the pastor had not managed to secure any transport further into the interior for all refugees for some time.

Instead, the bus financed by the Central Bohemian Region waited two hours at the border crossing until it was absolutely full. Yes, those children and women who were not rescued from the church were Romani refugees from the environs of Kyiv.

Who knows how much humiliation and how much pneumonia they will end up with just because those Czech bus drivers, those brilliant representatives of our helping nation, classified them as "inadaptable" without even seeing them. Those bus drivers didn't want to get their seats "dirty" supporting "economic migration".

As many of you have been aptly and repeatedly remarking, antigypsyism - our entirely domestic, homemade, longstanding, socially-tolerated racism - is the touchstone of our Czech solidarity even in these terrible times. Unfortunately, as long as we discriminate against war refugees on the basis of their appearance and economic situations without the slightest shame and without experiencing general condemnation (and field reports of similar cases increase every day), I am unable to take full inspiration from my own nation with pride.

Viktor Elšík, translated by Gwendolyn Albert
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