A man in his fifties is dispatched to the workshop, where several Afghan women work on sewing machines and looms, to assume the role of spokesperson.
He introduces himself as Ataullah. He is traditionally dressed in a long “shirt” padded below the knees, but he surprises with a very good Czech. “I studied at a military school in Brno,” he explains.
He has been living with his family for eight months in Kostelec nad Orlicí, where the so-called Residence Center of the Refugee Settlements Administration is located. It is an establishment at the service of applicants for international protection.
The Ataullah family are among those who evacuated this summer, when their country was quickly taken over by the radical Taliban movement.
“There were about 30 families and about 130 people. They were about 80 in Kostelec,” calculates Jan Piroch, spokesperson for the Refugee Facilities Administration.
Some have already found their own accommodation, but around 36 people remain in the center of the Hradec Králové region.
“They offered us apartments that weren’t quite suitable,” Ataullah explains why he hasn’t been able to leave the refugee center yet. He is looking for a more spacious apartment for his family of seven. At the same time, he insists on Prague, where, according to him, the best way to find work, and at the same time his children can study.
“But now they’ve told us to hold on for another four months,” he adds with undisguised disappointment. He notes that in the current atmosphere, refugees from Ukraine have priority.
Petra Uhlíková, who heads the residence center’s customer service, but says she and her colleagues are trying to prevent feelings that in addition to refugees from Ukraine there are other second-class ones.
“For example, when we receive aid from donors, we explain that we are going to distribute it to everyone, not just Ukrainians,” he explains. He adds that in general, refugees of different nationalities are in solidarity with each other.
Affiliation is literally exemplified by young Afghan Ahmad, who displays a banner he made in his spare time. It is dominated by crying eyes with Afghan and Ukrainian flags and words about peace.
Preparing for life in the Czech Republic with a Ukrainian flavor
The center in Kostelec nad Orlicí focuses on orienting its customers in the Czech environment. For this reason, only the most threatened Ukrainian refugees will enter the facility. These are, for example, mothers with children or larger foster families.
“From the start, we perceive that they want to stay here, so they have to manage life with everything, we give them instructions to orient themselves in everyday situations. It’s like a trip to the doctor, a trip to the office”, explains the head of the center Špaňhel.
Concretely, it is a question of accompanying their customers to the post office or for an examination. Gradually, they claim more and more independence vis-à-vis them. Gradually, the refugees have to make similar journeys themselves.
In the same way, the people of the residence cook and do their shopping. They have their own subsistence budget. This currently amounts to 4,250 crowns per month for individuals.
“The advantage is that they get to know our currency,” says Špaňhel.
This does not mean that the center does not have to react to the large wave of refugees from Ukraine. It has switched to emergency mode, which shows for example in practice that it is able to provide up to 330 beds instead of the usual 277 beds.
New housing has been created in the rooms that served as a living room with television. There are now bunk beds.
However, they are used in a more brutal way, for example when a large Ukrainian family arrives. In March, the population of Kostelec ranged from 210 to 250 people.
Jiří Špaňhel also mentions a detail which the visitor can easily miss. However, it illustrates well the current impact of the wave of Ukrainian migration. Due to the fact that a number of children of different nationalities moved to the region, their common universal language gradually became Czech.
“Now it’s such a mix of languages, Ukrainian is involved,” Spanhel said.
Czech for illiterates
The rooms in the resort are very economically equipped. However, in the shared kitchen in the hallway, each room has its own stove and oven, where people cook.
In addition, the center offers a wide range of services ranging from creative workshops and sports grounds, to a rich program for children, as well as social counseling. There is also a Department for Asylum and Migration Policy directly in the region.
The children attend a balance school, which has just been moved from the campus to the city. Older guests can voluntarily take Czech language courses. In the morning, speaker Hana enthusiastically explained what the past looks like in practice.
“Don’t forget that,” he insists. And his hand draws the command word in the air: I – I was – he was. The pupils gradually try to describe in the past and in Czech what they have done and which country they come from.
“I’ve been doing this for twenty years, it’s a great job,” Hana said after an hour with a smile. It is said that she is fascinated by the fact that sometimes “stars” appear in her class, that is, students who speak Czech very quickly.
He also talks enthusiastically about his work with the Afghan community: “It was very beautiful, but it is slowly coming to an end,” he notes. Afghan families are gradually becoming independent and leaving the centre.
At the same time, teaching was a big challenge for the lecturer – she estimated that a third of women were illiterate. “We had to work with images. We taught them the basics, which they will use, for example, when shopping, because most of them were stay-at-home women,” says teacher Hana
At the same time, he tries to test one of his students by involving him in the conversation. The Sri Lankan, who calls himself Susu, first explains how complicated and long his real name is and writes it on the board.
Subsequently, it turns out that Susu has been in the Czech Republic for even longer than Afghan families – two and a half years – and still remains in the residence center. He already works in various ways, for example in a fast food establishment, but he will also do housework.
“It just came to our knowledge at that time. My brother is in Germany. I wanted to go there, but I was deported to the Czech Republic. I came here first,” Susu describes his story.