Since the beginning of the war in Ukraine, more than 300,000 refugees have arrived in the Czech Republic—a number that might not seem that large but actually makes the Czech Republic the second EU country in the ranking of Ukrainian refugees per capita. From February to April, the Czech Republic has granted temporary protection for 295,616 Ukrainian refugees, which provides them with access to the public health insurance system, education, unrestricted access to the labor market, a humanitarian benefit, and the right to additional assistance, such as accommodation. This has also been accompanied by Czech citizens making donations of clothes, food, furniture, toys, and much more, and setting up places where Ukrainian refugees can come and take whatever they need for themselves and their families.
A response to a refugee crisis of such a scale that is not often seen, not only in the Czech Republic but elsewhere around the world, has sparked the interest of media and the international community who call it a prime example of how to handle a refugee crisis. I do not dispute that, however, I argue that such a response occurred due to a set of unique circumstances that makes it difficult to fully translate to other refugee crises. Having said that, there are certain aspects of the response that can be applied globally and thus advance the way in which the international community handles refugee crises.
The first aspect that created the unique circumstances resulting in this kind of response is the existing social ties Ukrainians have in the Czech Republic. Prior to the conflict, there were over 183,000 Ukrainian citizens living in the Czech Republic. Additionally, in combination with the Ukrainian minority consisting of more than 53,000 people, Ukrainians form the largest ethnic group in the Czech Republic. These ties made it easier for the Ukrainian refugees to find help and integrate into the Czech society through friend or family connections. Furthermore, these numbers demonstrate that Ukrainians have been living side by side with Czechs for decades. This past experience of the locals also contributed to their willingness to welcome Ukrainian refugees in their country and even open their homes to them. The second unique circumstance is the bond with Ukrainians against a common enemy. Many Czech people remember the Russian occupation of Czechoslovakia in 1968, and those who do not remember it were taught or told about it. The Czech people share the past experience of being occupied and dominated by the Russians, which makes them sympathize with the Ukrainians. Additionally, the Czech society supports Ukrainian sovereignty and their fight for freedom. It is hard to imagine that we would have seen this unprecedented wave of solidarity pronounced by citizens offering free accommodation in their homes if these circumstances did not exist. This can be also supported by the fact that this response was regional, as similar reactions were seen in Poland or the Baltics but not in Western Europe.
What can be applied globally?
Having talked about the unique circumstances of this response to a refugee crisis, there are certain aspects that can be applied globally when dealing with refugee crises, which mostly pertain to what the Czech government did. Firstly, right at the beginning of the conflict, the government set up a system that allowed the refugees to get smooth and fast access to public infrastructure, such as health insurance, education, and the labor market. This was done by setting up Regional Centers for Help and Assistance to Ukraine in each of the 14 regions in the Czech Republic, where Ukrainian refugees could register with the Foreign Police and arrange for the special temporary protection visa, which gave them all the previously mentioned benefits. The government acted fast with a united stance on accepting any Ukrainian refugee who comes to the Czech Republic. It is this attitude of the government that was then followed and reinforced by public volunteering.
While it is true that the unique circumstances in the Czech Republic made it possible for the Ukrainian refugees to be welcomed with open arms, the fast and decisive reaction of the Czech government also contributed to the positive way in which this crisis was handled. When the public saw that the government was eager to help these refugees by promptly taking the appropriate steps, their willingness to help rose as they felt that their efforts would also have a positive impact. This case demonstrates that in order to handle a refugee crisis effectively, the government has to take initiative and act fast so that the public can follow.
Barbora Lehká is currently finishing undergraduate studies at the Elliott School of International Affairs at George Washington University in Washington, DC. The concentration of her studies is security policy with focus on transatlantic affairs. Her past positions include internship at the Embassy of the Czech Republic in Washington DC, internship at the Ministry of Industry and Trade of the Czech Republic and assistant producer at Czech Radio. She currently works as a Project Assistant the Prague Security Studies Institute.
 Hovet, Jason. (2022, April 8). Evidence of war crimes in Ukraine must be collected, EU commissioner says. Reuters. https://www.reuters.com/world/europe/war-crimes-ukraine-should-not-go-unpunished-eu-commissioner-says-2022-04-08/.
 Ondrej, Hájek. (2022, April 19). Cesko udelilo Ukrajinským UPRCHLíKUM pres 295.600 Speciálních Víz. CeskéNoviny.cz. https://www.ceskenoviny.cz/zpravy/cesko-udelilo-ukrajinskym-uprchlikum-pres-295-600-specialnich-viz/2194210.
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