Relocation programme for Christian refugees from Iraq in jeopardy after large group moves to Germany

Iraqi refugees, photo: Filip Jandourek

A government-supported relocation programme for 150 Christian refugees from Iraq has been suspended after an eight-member-family decided to return to their homeland and 25 others unexpectedly moved to Germany over the weekend.

Iraqi refugees,  photo: Filip Jandourek
The relocation of 150 Christian refugees from Iraq to the Czech Republic was organized by the NGO Generation 21 and won approval from the Czech government in December of last year. The families who fled areas controlled by Islamic State were handpicked and security-screened in refugee camps in Lebanon. One basic condition for being included in the programme was a stated desire to relocate specifically to the Czech Republic. Since the start of the year 89 of them arrived in the country in several stages and are in the process of settling in at a number of government facilities in Prague, Brno and Jihlava.

The programme which was viewed as a litmus test for the integration of refugees from a different cultural environment on Friday received a serious blow. A family of eight Iraqis expressed the desire to return home saying they were unable to settle in a culturally different environment. Another group of 25 people unexpectedly withdrew their request for asylum and privately hired a bus to take them to Germany over the weekend, without even consulting Generation 21. The NGO’s director Jan Talafant said it was a blow to the whole project.

Jan Talafant,  photo: archive of Generation 21
“This is most regrettable and we are upset of course. It is not clear what led the group of 25 people – an extended family – to act as they did. It could have been any number of reasons – we were not told anything specific and I suspect someone may have led to believe they would be better off in Germany. In any case their action has jeopardized the whole project. Another 60 people are hoping to come and it is not clear whether they will be able to do so – that decision is now in the hands of the government.”

The German authorities have now confirmed that the group of 25 Iraqis will be allowed to remain in Germany where they all filed for asylum citing family ties. Meanwhile, talks between the government and Generation 21 are underway with regard to the future of the whole relocation programme and the fate of the remaining Iraqi families still waiting to move to the Czech Republic. Interior Minister Milan Chovanec who suspended the programme on the grounds that the Czech Republic could not serve as a travel agency, has said he will advise the government against renewing it. Although a final decision has yet to be made, the incident is grist to the mill of sceptics opposing the relocation of migrants and has highlighted some of the problems that will come with the admission of a larger number of people.