Czech government gives helping hand to Ukrainians who wish to return home

Ukrainian refugees

More than two years after the Russian invasion of Ukraine started, there are over 339,000 Ukrainian nationals with temporary protection status living in Czechia. As the war drags on, many have grown accustomed to the idea that they may never return. But, there are also refugees who wish to go back, no matter the risks, and the Czech government has launched a program to help them do so.       

Fifty-year-old Olena still remembers the day she arrived in Czechia and the volunteer who helped her to get her bearings in a foreign country. Olena has lived in Czechia for two years now and has no plans to return to Ukraine for the time being. Like many refugees, she has no place to go. Her house in Kharkiv was completely destroyed by Russian troops. But Olena understands those of her compatriots who want to return to their homeland, despite the unstable situation. Some yearn to see the family and friends they left behind. Others who need health care prefer to get treatment in their homeland from doctors they know and trust.

Illustrative photo: Czech Television

Responding to the needs of those wanting to return, the Czech government has approved a program for so-called voluntary repatriation. The state will cover the travel costs for those Ukrainians who want to return home for whatever reason, says Ondřej Krátoška, spokesman for the Interior Ministry.

"We have increasingly been registering cases where Ukrainian nationals with temporary protection are asking for it to be terminated, because they want to return home and need either financial or logistics assistance. They usually have serious reasons for wanting to go back. Often these are persons with serious disabilities or illnesses that require permanent medical care.”

According to the team organizing the repatriations, around thirty Ukrainians who are too ill to travel by bus will be transported home by ambulance.

Magda Faltova, head of the Association for Integration and Migration, has welcomed the initiative.

Magda Faltová | Photo: Jana Přinosilová,  Czech Radio

“The voluntary repatriation program is a standard part of any broader program for assistance to refugees. Because from the beginning of the conflict there have been people who needed to return home for whatever reason and did not have the finances to do so. So we welcome the fact that the government has provided the funds. But I want to stress that this is really a voluntary program, not a forced repatriation. The number of people interested is relatively small, but they really want to go home.”

The program, for an estimated 400 people, will cost the state treasury CZK 5.5 million. And Ukrainian refugees will only be able to use it once. The reason why this is being underscored is that many Ukrainians, especially from the Western parts of the country, travel back and forth, returning to see family and friends, check on their homes and see what the situation is like in their home town. Some even intend to stay, but often find that the notion of how they would live and work there is unrealistic – and chose to return to Czechia in a few weeks’ time.

Magda Faltova says that for this reason it is not easy to say how many Ukrainians are currently in Czechia as refugees, since they often neglect to inform the authorities about their plans. In such a case, their temporary protection status –which is renewed annually- will eventually expire.

Authors: Daniela Lazarová , Marie Veselá | Source: Český rozhlas
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