Change in approach aims to deter Roma refugees

Ukrainian Roma refugees at Prague Main Train Station

The Czech government is planning to make changes to legislation covering Ukrainian refugees. This includes a refusal to protect people with EU citizenship, a status shared by many refugees of Roma origin.

Ukrainian refugees of Roma origin camped out in corridors at Prague’s Main Train Station have been a common image in the Czech news recently.

A relatively small number have been moved to a new “tent city” some kilometres away.

However, around 450 Roma refugees – including small children – were reported to be still stuck living at the station earlier this week.

Tent city in Troja | Photo: Vít Šimánek,  ČTK

Many of them possess both Ukrainian and Hungarian citizenship, due to a scheme some years ago making it easier for Hungarian Roma living in Ukraine to acquire a second passport.

But it is this dual citizenship that has now made this group something of a hot potato as far as the authorities are concerned.

The Czech minister of the interior, Vít Rakušan, has discussed the matter with his Ukrainian counterpart and suggested that organised crime may be behind the arrival of Roma refugees, with benefit fraud a possible goal.

On Wednesday Mr. Rakušan announced that the Czech cabinet was tightening up legislation drafted in response to the arrival of hundreds of thousands of people fleeing Russia’s war on Ukraine.

Vít Rakušan | Photo:  Office of Czech Government

Specifically, people in possession of EU citizenship – in other words, Hungarian passports – will be refused aid by the Czech authorities.

A “front desk” will be created at Prague’s Main Station to screen new arrivals, Minister Rakušan said.

“We will give people specific information. ‘You have the right to temporary protection, we will send you to a regional assistance centre for help to Ukraine.’ ‘You don’t have and will not have that right – because for instance you are a Hungarian citizen – so we recommend, and we will deliver this via the Ministry of Transport, that you return to your country of origin, that you return to Ukraine.’”

Minister Rakušan wishes to see the crisis at the Main Station resolved soon. Humanitarian assistance that is currently being provided there will be discontinued by the end of this month.

The head of the Czech police force and his Hungarian counterpart have also been in discussions and special controls are due to take place before refugees even set off for the Czech Republic.

Tent city in Troja | Photo: Vít Šimánek,  ČTK

Changes to the legislation referred to as “the Ukraine Law” will also mean that refugees being provided with accommodation and food will no longer be eligible for a cash handout.

Refugees will now have more time, 60 days, to apply for temporary protection after they arrive. By contrast the period in which they must report a change of address is being shortened from 15 to three days.

Mr. Rakušan said at the weekend that after peaking at around 350,000 the number of Ukrainian refugees in the Czech Republic had fallen to around 200,000.

Around 50,000 are already legally employed in the country.

Author: Ian Willoughby
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