Regional governors up in arms over Prague’s decision to close its centre for refugees

Centre for refugees in Prague- Vysočany

The decision of Prague Mayor Zdeněk Hřib to close the capital’s centre for Ukrainian refugees in mid-June, due to overload, has elicited sharp criticism from regional governors. Many have pointed out that the closure of the country’s busiest refugee centre will only exacerbate the problem and create chaos since many Ukrainian refugees will still head to Prague.

Centre for refugees in Prague- Vysočany | Photo:  Prague City Hall

The mayor of Prague announced his decision on Wednesday, in defiance of the government and following several warnings that the capital city was no longer able to cope with the influx of Ukrainian refugees. He said that Prague, which has processed over 90,000 applications for a special visa had taken in up to four times more refugees than some of the other regions.

The mayor laid the blame for the situation squarely at the government’s door, saying that in the course of three months it had failed to produce a system for an even distribution of refugees in the regions.

Martin Netolický | Photo:  ČT24

The response from the regions was fast and furious, with some governors threatening to take a similar course of action. Governor Martin Netolický said that if Prague closes its centre for refugees, the Pardubice region will follow suit. The governor of the Plzen region, Rudolf Špoták said the Plzen centre too may cease to operate due to work overload.

Jan Grolich governor of the South Moravian region, complained that the decision to close the Prague centre was not consulted with the other governors. He said the situation was difficult in many regions and pulling out unilaterally was inconsiderate to the others.

Tent city in Malešice | Photo: Vít Šimánek,  ČTK

The strain from the refugee wave, which started three months ago, has been building up for weeks and Prague has shouldered the biggest burden. In recent weeks, the situation was further aggravated by the fact that a large number of mostly Romany refugees from Ukraine arrived in the capital and filed for humanitarian visas despite the fact that some of them also had Hungarian citizenship. During the lengthy screening process that followed, to find out who was eligible and who was not, hundreds camped out at Prague’s Main Railway Station, until tent cities were built in Troja and Malešice.

Interior Minister Vít Rakušan acknowledged that the capital has a problem, but he said the closure of Prague’s refugee centre was regrettable.

Vít Rakušan | Photo:  Office of Czech Government

“We know that Prague is overburdened. But the Prague centre for refugees, which has been a focal point, could continue to help by registering refugees who would then be redistributed to other regions. Closing one centre to put pressure on the others is really not a solution.”

The minister said that he and Prime Minister Fiala were ready to meet with the Prague mayor and look for a solution. The government recently rejected the Prague mayor’s proposal to motivate refugees to leave Prague for the regions on the grounds that it was legally unacceptable.

The Czech Republic has so far granted temporary visas to 361, 400 Ukrainian refugees and around 300,000 of them remain in the country.