In 2008 the Czech Republic engaged in a small programme to resettle around 40 Burmese refugees a year, as part of a three-year pilot project. The Czech Burma Center (BCP), an independent NGO located in Prague, ran a series of educational activities to raise awareness in the community and promote better understanding of newly arrived refugees and their needs. They gave lectures to social workers, government officials and other representatives from NGOs, churches, schools and the general public who had contact with the refugees. General information was provided, along with documentaries, discussions and practical exercises to inform participants about the current situation in Burma and its impact on the people living there. They also took part in national and local media activities with radio and television. Several different broadcasts covered the refugees’ arrival with follow-up stories, to give further information to the public about refugees. The NGO also created leaflets in Czech titled ‘Do you know your new neighbour?’ covering a short background on Burma, the ethnic origins of refugees and resettlement in the Czech Republic, etc. These were then distributed both ‘door to door’, in community centres and in town halls.
The Czech Republic has limited experience of receiving refugees, and the small local communities knew little or nothing about Burma/Myanmar. The public and service providers therefore needed help to understand the refugees’ situation, so that they would be more accepting and support their integration. As the Burmese groups had limited knowledge of what to expect in the Czech Republic and were very shy about asking for help and describing their needs, preparing the community was all the more important.
The awareness raising activities were well received and assisted in making strong links with the local authorities, service providers and refugees.
The Burma Centre did not receive funding from the government and was thus limited in how much it could achieve. However, they demonstrate that with imagination and creativity it is possible to make a difference with even very limited resources.
Czech Practice – Working with Churches
Evangelical Church of Czech Brethren – Nove Mesto, Morave Churches can play a vital role in supporting refugees and offering integration assistance. In the Czech Republic, the Evangelical Church of Czech Brethren has been very active in welcoming the newly arrived Burmese refugees. The church heard about refugees from media reports, leaflets and from a session with the Burma Center Prague. Church members decided to get in contact with the refugees to welcome them to their town. They assisted the refugees by giving them material support (clothes, shoes, utensils, furniture, etc.) and also helped them with practical things, such as orientation in the town, shopping, cooking, medical care, and Czech language training.