The first of a group of 153 Christian refugees from Iraq due to settle in the Czech Republic arrived over the weekend. The plan to take in Christians at risk was initiated by Generation 21 Foundation which has pledged to oversee and finance their relocation.
I asked the head of the Foundation Jan Talafant to tell us more about them and what kind of reception they received.
“They are refugees from the Mosul area, which Islamic State invaded a year and a half ago, and they had to flee and leave almost everything behind. They really are trying to save their lives and give their children a peaceful future and that is what we are trying to help them with.”
How were they selected, presumably they had to undergo some sort of security clearance?
“We have co-workers working in refugee camps in Erbil for many years and they know them personally. They know they are Christians, they know their stories and, on the other hand, these people declared that they want to come to the Czech Republic and live here.
They underwent the security screening required by the Czech authorities, they have undergone interviews with people from the Czech Interior Ministry so most of the asylum related procedures are already behind them.” So we know they want to stay here? “Yes.”
How were they received by the locals?
“We are happy that people are quite welcoming and the atmosphere for receiving Christians is positive. Even people who do not want any refugees say these are real refugees –families with children, Christians who are the most persecuted group in that area – so they say if we are to receive refugees from that area we would like to receive these.”
So there was no fear or hostility? I understand volunteers turned up to cook their first meal in the Czech Republic?
“Yes, there are many volunteers. Many people are calling to say they want to buy them winter clothes, they want to cook for them, they want to help financially so it is really positive.
What we are really happy about is that their first feelings in the Czech Republic were positive, they liked the fact that people showed an interest in them, when they were riding the bus to Jihlava they took a guitar and sung together and when they got to Jihlava there was an Iraqi meal prepared for them and they were happy to have something they are used to.
They called home to say that the others can come, that it is good here, that they like it here. So this was their first impression of the Czech Republic. ”
They have just arrived – what will you be able to do for their integration?
“They all know they have to learn the Czech language – their studies will take up the next six months and they should get used to the Czech culture and customs and after 6 months they may be ready to start work and we believe that in one year they will be – or most of them – self- sufficient.”
by Daniela Lazarová