European Commission awards Czech project aimed at helping immigrants

Photo: Berkat

Starting a new life in a foreign country is never easy. For immigrants from countries such as Chechnya, Armenia or Afghanistan who arrive in the Czech Republic with little money, no knowledge of the language and no prospects of finding a job - things are even more difficult. Now there's someone they can turn to for more than just the basics. Six months ago the Berkat InBaze centre opened its doors to foreign migrants in need of help. Over that period it has helped close to 200 foreigners to make a home, find a job and make friends in the Czech Republic.

A programme focused on helping female immigrants integrate with society in which the centre is actively involved has won the European Commission's Golden Star 2006 award. Daniela Lazarova paid a visit to the centre and spoke to re-qualification programme coordinator Alice Mullerova:

"This is a project which aims to integrate foreigners into the labour market. So first and foremost we have language courses and computer courses - every week for an hour and a half for free."

I see that you have several offices here - or rather rooms - there is a sewing room, a children's corner, something like a lecture hall next door and there is a woman upstairs doing some cooking. Can you tell me more about these activities here?

"We call it our ethno-catering project. Women from different countries cook their national dishes and offer them to the public - they are served at conferences, workshops and so on. This gives them work to do, they make some money and at the same time present their own culture in the Czech Republic."

What about the sewing room down here - I see there are costumes -Chechen costumes possibly- and there are also dolls in national dress. Can you tell me a little bit about that?

"The room we are sitting in right now is a sewing room with a children's corner. Women come here and they can learn to sew or if they know how they can make something for themselves or their children. They also make these small dolls in national costume which are sold and again it is a way of presenting their own culture in this country."

And I see that there are three boys working on computers next door. What are they doing?

"It is for free. People can come and use our computers to write their CV or look for a job on the Internet. Just do whatever they need."

I originally thought you were active in helping to integrate foreign women in society but it is men as well, is it?

"Both. One of our activities is a multi-cultural women's group called Circles. They meet twice a week every Monday and Friday. They talk about their troubles and their lives and they cook together - which really helps us bring more women into the centre and then they can also join in the other activities. From our point of view that community is important - it is vital that they are not isolated. You see most of them care for children and do not get out much. That's why they like to come and be active here in our centre."

You obviously help them make a living and then maybe find a job you help them to make friends with Czech women in order to integrate better or do they just make friends here among themselves?

"Oh yes. The multi cultural group is open to everybody - Czech women included. This is where they can meet and get to know each other and make friends."

And do Czech women come to these sessions?

"Of course. Many Czech women have shown an interest in what is going on here. They are interested in how women from different cultures live. Some of them come to help and bring whatever their foreign friends here yes, Czech women are really interested in coming here."

And what language do they all speak? How do they communicate?

"The woman who chairs this group says we use all languages and also our hands and feet!"

In the Chechen language Berkat means "happiness" and that is exactly what the NGO -established in 2001- has been trying to promote. Its relatively new centre for foreign migrants in Prague is EU funded. You can find more information about both the association and the centre at