Government launches second phase of project to repatriate foreign workers

The Czech Interior Ministry on Monday unveiled plans to repatriate another wave of foreigners from non-EU countries who have lost their jobs. The government’s voluntary return scheme, offering laid-off workers cash and a plane ticket home if they agree to leave the country, has been extended to cover another 4,000 people. For the first time, the government is also planning to help those living illegally in the Czech Republic to return home.

The voluntary repatriation scheme was launched in February, amidst some controversy. The then interior minister, Ivan Langer, said it was to stop thousands of foreigners recently made redundant from entering into organized crime. Běla Hejná from the Interior Ministry says, however, that this was not the main reason for the project:

“The main reason was to provide assistance to those who became, from one day to another, in a very complicated situation, jobless and in many cases, they became at the same moment homeless also. Because their accommodation was very often connected to the employment they had. The situation after, or during, the economic downturn is still complicated and so we decided to provide such a possibility or option. And I would definitely call it an option, because it depends on each person whether he or she decides to leave.”

Around 1,800 foreigners have so far taken the government up on its offer of 500 euros in cash and a free ticket home. But reactions remain mixed to the scheme. Kristýna Miholová works for one of the Czech Republic’s biggest charities, People in Need:

“The project itself is not problematic. We, of course, welcome help being offered to people without a job, without money and with a big problem in the Czech Republic. But what we criticize is that we lack something like an additional plan for how to solve the whole situation. And I’m afraid that this project, even if it is extended to cover undocumented migrants still does not resolve the whole situation.”

Illustrative photo: Czech Television
On Monday, the Interior Ministry launched the second phase of the voluntary return scheme, offering slightly less money and a free journey home to a further 4,000 recently laid-off workers.

The ministry also unveiled plans to help illegal migrants living in the Czech Republic make their way home. Here’s Běla Hejná again:

“We saw that there is a group of people who became jobless and who were in the same situation as those who applied for repatriation in the voluntary return project for legal immigrants, but who became jobless earlier, so they were not able to fulfill the main condition which is that they were staying legally at the moment they registered. So mainly this project was prepared for those people. Plus, of course, once we decided to open the return project for illegal immigrants, we decided it will be open to all those who are staying illegally in the territory of the Czech Republic.”

Photo: Kristýna Maková,  Czech Radio
Undocumented migrants who opt for the voluntary return programme will not receive a one-off payment like those who have been living here legally. They will also be banned from the country for a certain period after they leave. Běla Hejná says illegal aliens taking part in the scheme will be split into two groups:

“The first group are those who are unable to cover the travel costs by themselves, and the second group are those who are able to cover these costs. The difference which is connected with these two groups is the length of the reentry ban which will be given, which has to be given because of their illegal residence. For those who will be able to cover the costs by themselves the reentry ban will be shorter than for those who are not able to cover the costs.”

While human rights groups such as People in Need say that this does not tackle the root of the problem, they welcome the new return scheme nonetheless. Here’s Kristýna Miholová again:

“This is great. We must say that this is the first time that the Czech state has ratified some non-repressive step towards non-documented migrants. This is great, this is really very good, and we have always criticized the Czech government for only repressing illegal migrants. I don’t know for how long these people will not be able to return, but it is definitely less than if they were banned, so this is great.”

Illegal immigrants can sign up for voluntary repatriation as of September 15.