Martin Rozumek: The Ministry of the Interior is liquidating a functional team to help refugees

Is this solidarity incredible precisely because of the experience of the migration crisis five or six years ago, when Czechia refused to accept Syrian refugees?
We were already established during the war in Bosnia, and the support was also important. I myself came to OPU during the war in Kosovo, when we as Czechia voluntarily accepted a much smaller number of refugees, but even then the event also went well. But I didn’t expect us to be so positive about so many refugees after harassing migrants and refugees on all sides for the past six years. Thank you very much and I appreciate it. I was also positively surprised by our politicians, the government coalition reacted very well in unison, Prime Minister Petr Fiala, Minister of Interior Vít Rakušan, Minister of Labor and Social Affairs Marián Jurečka. The way they approached it then had a positive effect on the whole nation.

Czechia, a country promised to Ukrainians: who applied for visas, in which municipalities they went

In this Ukrainian refugee crisis, triggered by Russian aggression against Ukraine, a new tool has emerged that had never been used six years ago during the Syrian migration crisis. And that is to provide “temporary protection” to all Ukrainian refugees, in all countries of the European Union at the same time. It also seems to you that it works very well. Do you see it like that?
We should have done it six years ago. The situation of the Syrian refugee crisis and the current Ukrainian crisis seems very similar to me. Thirteen million Syrians are still out of their homes due to Russian shelling of their homes, about half inside Syria and the other half outside Syria. The number of Ukrainian refugees is already similar today. The situation seems very similar to me. Unlike that then everyone came from the south via Greece, now everyone comes from the east. The instrument in the form of pan-European temporary protection is therefore good, and I am happy that it has been activated for the first time in the history of the European Union.

But are there any shortcomings? After all, it is only a “temporary protection”.
I find it regrettable here in the Czech Republic that in our legislation adopted in the context of the Ukrainian migration crisis, the Ministry of the Interior has stated that it is not possible to switch from “temporary protection” to any other type of residence. We, together with the Ministry of Labor, are planning how to create stable working conditions for Ukrainians, how to prevent the exploitation of these people, how to motivate employers to offer work that will match the qualifications of Ukrainian refugees… And unfortunately, there has this, in my opinion stupid assurance that the protection will end in a year, so in theory all Ukrainians should return to Ukraine, at least according to the current rules.

Do Ukrainian refugees perceive that we only rely on them “temporarily”?
Yes, the Ukrainian refugees are already asking us the question. European temporary protection does not require this. Again, it’s a Czech fabrication where we’re afraid these people will stay here. On the contrary, I think we should try to keep ourselves here. Because it’s a huge opportunity. Both given our demographic development, the lack of labor everywhere, and given the fact that mothers with young children come to us from Ukraine. If we can handle this situation well and offer generous integration programs, we will still earn a lot of money as a country. In addition, of course, we will help people who really need it.

So this is the main error of the “temporary protection”?
Yes, that’s his main problem. But this is not an error of the European provision, it is a Czech error that we will try to correct in cooperation with the deputies. Otherwise, however, the temporary protection instrument seems very good to me.

And what do you think of the opinion that the first step the Czech state should take in the current situation is to relax the current regulation of certain professions?
Sure. It’s amazing, there are maybe more than three hundred regulated professions in the Czech Republic. I feel like if someone wants to sweep the street, they have to go into a room and pass a special exam, and if they don’t pass it, they can’t become a street sweeper. At the same time, highly educated people often came here from Ukraine, so it would be a shame not to use their potential. It is the recognition of diplomas and nostrification (recognition of studies, editor’s note) that should be greatly accelerated and simplified.

Why is it important that the refugees themselves can work and, if possible, in their field?
Such. We see it in asylum seekers who are banned from working for six months and who live in large refugee camps outside the city. When they have been there for a long time, their mental state deteriorates terribly fast. At the beginning, we see an optimistic person who is happy to have escaped persecution in his home country and who seems lucky to live in the Czech Republic. And after months, sometimes years of asylum, it’s a crumbling wreck. This is why I repeat it in all the media to which I am now invited. Let’s avoid refugee camps, concentrate a large number of refugees, try to integrate these people into normal life as quickly as possible. And then, I think it will work well.

View of a ruined street in Ukraine after the bombardment of the Russian army.

They pulled me from the waist down. The woman was attacked by a Russian soldier and neighbors dragged her off the street

Your refugee aid organization has so far provided free and extensive legal aid to refugees and asylum seekers, with the support of EU funds. Is it true that the State wants to cancel this service which is yours and is it not paradoxical in a situation where, on the contrary, it is several times more necessary? Is it true that you will have to dismiss your lawyers?
It’s true, it’s not just legal aid. For ten years, with the help of funds from the European Union, we have been building here a system of legal, psychological and social assistance to refugees and asylum seekers. Because it has been far too successful, especially from a legal point of view, and we have been able to have many illegal decisions on asylum and migration policy of the Ministry of the Interior overturned by the courts. The “reward” for this success is what the ministry offered under former minister Jan Hamáček. That is, to get rid of us completely. Social and psychological help should completely stop working. And from a legal point of view, it must be replaced from May 1 by a system of much more expensive traditional lawyers, who will provide fewer services to refugees.

But is there a whole new government?
We promised the new government, the new minister Vít Austrán, that he would prevent it. We tried to persuade him that, on the contrary, the functioning of the Department for Asylum and Migration Policy of the Ministry of the Interior, which today is a huge mole, should be improved. But it seems that the Austrian minister, of whom I am also a big fan, did not find this strength. As a result, experienced colleagues have been leaving us since the beginning of the year. But now, thanks to the solidarity of ordinary Czechs, we have enough money to be able to hire Ukrainian lawyers and other experts to negotiate with newly arrived refugees. But our overall problem, where a team of refugees to help refugees for ten years can collapse, does not solve this.

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