• Text size Normal size text | Increase text size by 10% | Increase text size by 20% | Increase text size by 30%

A big welcome for Asian refugees from a small village in Bohemia

Making a Difference, 30 June 2009

Members of the family admire the cherry tree in their new home village.

OSECEK, Czech Republic, June 25 (UNHCR) Dal eyed the cherry tree in the garden of his new home in rural Central Europe. "With eight of us, these will be gone in a few days," the youngster told UNHCR visitors through an interpreter. In his native Myanmar, cherries don't grow on trees.

A lot of things are different in this village in the Czech Republic from Myanmar and tropical Malaysia, where eight-year-old Dal and his ethnic Chin family lived in exile for six years. But the rain was familiar, reminding them of the more humid monsoon that hits South-East Asia every year.

They moved into their new home last week, some eight months after arriving in Prague late October as part of a group of 23 people from Myanmar the first refugees ever resettled in the Czech Republic. A second group of 23 arrived in February.

The first families have spent the time since their arrival at the Straž refugee centre north of the capital, going through intensive language training and orientation courses to learn about their new homeland.

The government's State Integration Programme, meanwhile, found permanent accommodation in the country's Bohemia and Moravia regions for all five of the resettled families. Dal and his family, led by former farmer Biak, moved into their home last Friday.

A warm welcome awaited them on arrival at their new municipal apartment in Osecek, including government officials, the village mayor and a priest 80-90 percent of Chins are Christans. A kindly neighbour dropped by to say hello and to deliver some hot chicken soup that she had just prepared.

"The furniture and basic equipment was provided by NGOs with support from the European Refugee Fund, but many other things were given by locals," said Petr Novak from the Interior Ministry's department of asylum and migration Politics of the Interior Ministry, pointing at toys and four bicycles.

Novak said there were only a limited number of flats available, and a large number of applicants. When placing the refugees, they had to consider many factors. "Every refugee dreams of living in Prague, but such wishes are simply impossible to meet," he said, adding: "We try to find housing according to the individual needs of each refugee and their families, with special focus on employment opportunities."

Biak is lucky because he will be able to use his farming skills to provide for his family, while the four youngest children will get a good start by studying at local schools. Before his departure from Kuala Lumpur last year, the family patriarch had said he and his wife would "take any job we can: cooking, serving in a restaurant or working on farms."

They don't need to worry about employment, explained Roman Varga from the Organization for Aid to Refugees, which will help the family during the first six months in their new home.

"A nearby agriculture corporation offered jobs for the parents and the oldest son," he said. "The very first thing we need to do is to take the parents around and to introduce them to the authorities in Podebrady, the nearest district town, and have their new residence properly registered," he added.

That will be done this week, but on their first day in the village the family were happy just to explore and meet their neighbours. It's a long way from Myanmar and from Malaysia, where many refugees have limited legal access to labour and schooling.

Biak clearly believes education for his children is the most important thing. "We did not leave for the Czech Republic to get a better life for ourselves, but for our children."

The summer holiday starts very soon, but the youngest four children will visit the local primary school today to enrol for September and meet their future teachers and classmates. The children picked up the language quickly during their courses in Straž, but the adults may need more classes.

UNHCR has welcomed the assistance provided by the Czech authorities. "Seeing the families moving to a private environment is a relieving experience," said Marcela Skalkova, who heads the refugee agency's Prague office. "At the same time, we all need to understand that this is just the beginning."

Becoming a resettlement country is yet another milestone for the Czech Republic, which emerged from decades of isolation under Soviet domination as part of Czechoslovakia less than 20 years ago. Born as a new nation in 1993, the Czech Republic joined the European Union in 2004.

The Czech pilot programme is aimed at assistance to vulnerable refugees; top consideration was given to survivors of trauma and refugees with serious medical problems or protection needs. Some of the refugees had spent nearly 10 years in exile in Malaysia, and resettlement was seen as the only solution for them.

By Marta Miklusakova in Prague, Czech Republic




UNHCR country pages

Local Integration

Integration of refugees in the host community allows recipients to live in dignity and peace.

Integration Initiatives: Supporting Next Steps

An inventory of opportunities and needs in the integration of resettled refugees


An alternative for those who cannot go home, made possible by UNHCR and governments.

Resettlement from Tunisia's Choucha Camp

Between February and October 2011, more than 1 million people crossed into Tunisia to escape conflict in Libya. Most were migrant workers who made their way home or were repatriated, but the arrivals included refugees and asylum-seekers who could not return home or live freely in Tunisia.

UNHCR has been trying to find solutions for these people, most of whom ended up in the Choucha Transit Camp near Tunisia's border with Libya. Resettlement remains the most viable solution for those registered as refugees at Choucha before a cut-off date of December 1, 2011.

As of late April, 14 countries had accepted 2,349 refugees for resettlement, 1,331 of whom have since left Tunisia. The rest are expected to leave Choucha later this year. Most have gone to Australia, Norway and the United States. But there are a more than 2,600 refugees and almost 140 asylum-seekers still in the camp. UNHCR continues to advocate with resettlement countries to find solutions for them.

Resettlement from Tunisia's Choucha Camp

Myanmar Cyclone Victims Still Need Aid

With eight relief flights and an earlier truck convoy from nearby Thailand, UNHCR had by June 6, 2008 moved 430 tonnes of shelter and basic household supplies into Myanmar to help as many as 130,000 victims of Cyclone Nargis. The aid includes plastic sheeting, plastic rolls, mosquito nets, blankets and kitchen sets. Once the aid arrives in the country it is quickly distributed.

On the outskirts of the city of Yangon – which was also hit by the cyclone – and in the Irrawady delta, some families have been erecting temporary shelters made out of palm leaf thatching. But they desperately need plastic sheeting to keep out the monsoon rains.

Posted on 12 June 2008

Myanmar Cyclone Victims Still Need Aid

Returnees in Myanmar

During the early 1990s, more than 250,000 Rohingya Muslims fled across the border into Bangladesh, citing human rights abuses by Myanmar's military government. In exile, refugees received shelter and assistance in 20 camps in the Cox's Bazaar region of Bangladesh. More than 230,000 of the Rohingya Muslims have returned since 1992, but about 22,000 still live in camps in Bangladesh. To promote stability in returnee communities in Myanmar and to help this group of re-integrate into their country, UNHCR and its partner agencies provide monitors to insure the protection and safety of the returnees as well as vocational training, income generation schemes, adult literacy programs and primary education.

Returnees in Myanmar

From refugee 'Lost Boy' to state education ministerPlay video

From refugee 'Lost Boy' to state education minister

The subject of the best-selling book What is the What, Valentino Achak Deng's journey has taken him from Sudanese 'Lost Boy' to education minister in his home state in South Sudan. He talks here about the causes of displacement, the risks of politicizing refugee resettlement, and the opportunities that come with staying positive.
IOM Director General Swing Remarks on the Resettlement of Refugees from Bhutan in NepalPlay video

IOM Director General Swing Remarks on the Resettlement of Refugees from Bhutan in Nepal

The UN refugee agency and the International Organization for Migration (IOM) marked a major milestone: the resettlement of over 100,000 refugees from Bhutan in Nepal to third countries since the launch of the programme in 2007.
High Commissioner Guterres Remarks on the resettlement of Refugees from Bhutan in NepalPlay video

High Commissioner Guterres Remarks on the resettlement of Refugees from Bhutan in Nepal

The UN refugee agency and the International Organization for Migration (IOM) marked a major milestone: the resettlement of over 100,000 refugees from Bhutan in Nepal to third countries since the launch of the programme in 2007.