Moravian village unsettled by arrival of Iraqi refugees

Public meeting at the local town hall in Smilovice, photo: CTK

Another group of Christian refugees from Iraq is set to arrive at Prague’s Václav Havel Airport on Friday. The families are part of a larger group whose relocation has been initiated and financed by the foundation Generace 21. This time, however, the refugees’ arrival has caused a wave of protests. Inhabitants of a small village in north Moravia where some of the families are to settle have launched a petition against them.

Public meeting at the local town hall in Smilovice,  photo: CTK
At a public meeting at the local town hall in Smilovice this week, local inhabitants expressed strong objections against the arrival of about 14 Iraqi people in their village, arguing that they didn’t know enough about them and that they could pose danger to their community. Kristina Hradilová, an elderly resident of Smilovice, is one of the signatories of the petition against the refugees. This is what she told Czech Television:

“We haven’t been asked by anyone if we agreed with the plan. I will be one of their closest neighbours in the village and I am afraid that they might not be true Christians.”

Another local inhabitant, Roman Jokiel, is also against the settlement of Iraqi refugees in the village:

“We don’t know who these people are. We don’t know anything about their culture and we don’t know how they behave. How do we know if they will really stay just for two months?”

The house in Smilovice where the refugees should be accommodated,  photo: CTK
However, Generace 21 insists there is no reason to worry. The people in question were the most threatened inhabitants of Iraq. They come from the area of Mosul, which was invaded by Islamic State about a year and a half ago, and they had to flee and leave almost everything behind.

They were selected in refugee camps in Erbil and all of them underwent security screenings required by the Czech authorities as well as interviews with people from the Czech Interior Ministry.

Lenka Waszutová, a spokeswoman for the non-profit organisation Slezská Diakonie, which is helping the refugees with settling down, told Czech Television that the reaction of the local people has taken them by surprise. She suggested it may be due to a lack of information:

“We are not going to change our plans, but we want to communicate more with the local people to dispel their worries. We hope that people will understand that no one who wants to hurt them or their relatives. In any case, police will be ready to assist if anything happens.”

First group of Iraqi refugees in Prague,  photo: Filip Jandourek
The first families from Iraq arrived in the Czech Republic earlier this year. Most of them have been given new homes in the village of Okrouhlík near Jihlava, and despite initial worries on the part of the locals have settled down without any controversies.

The Generace 21 foundation plans to relocate altogether 153 people to the Czech Republic throughout this year.