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Initially throughout the European Union there was enthusiasm to help Ukrainians fleeing Putin’s “special military operation”. Ukrainians temporarily resettled in Czechia however are finding themselves between a rock and a hard place. It is not known how many Ukrainians have left Czechia temporarily in order to visit family near the Ukrainian border as Ukrainian men fighting the war have a short break and how many have permanently left Czechia due to being unable to afford to stay.
This is not the first time there have been complaints about the assistance available for Ukrainians in Czechia. Last year the Czech government set up tents as emergency shelters and crowded several families into each tent. The Czech government also was unhelpful to refugees trying to find other accommodation other than the tents. Fortunately however Ukrainians no longer have to stay in tents due to the help of citizens volunteering to help the Ukrainians. This has been frustrating for Ukrainians, whose language uses the cyrllic script instead of the latin script that the Czech language uses. While the government may not be very supportive, Czech citizens themselves have shown a lot of support for Ukrainians. In the first four months after the invasion, Czech citizens donated 2 billion czech crowns (84 million euros).
One factor that is making it difficult for Ukrainians to stay in Czechia is a shortage of affordable housing. This is not just a problem in Czechia however as most European Union cities have seen increases in the prices of mortgages and rent, yet Czechia has seen higher price increases than the EU’s average. Between 2010 and the first quarter of 2023, house prices increased 122,9 percent in Czechia and rents increased 42 percent. In the EU, on average home prices increased by 45,9 percent and rents increased by 20,3 percent in the same time period.
Besides the change in market prices however, the Czech government has also cut support for housing for Ukrainians. The government has cut funding for 2,000 group homes. Owners were also receiving support for housing Ukrainians in separate apartments. The specific amount depends on how many people are housed, 5,000 czech crowns (210 euros) for 1 person, 9,000 czech crowns (378 euros) for 2 people, and 15,000 czech crowns (630 euros) for 3 or more people. Starting this month however, Czech citizens will only receive government payments for Ukrainians living with them in the same apartment.
Some Barriers to Find Jobs
Czechia has one of the lowest unemployment rates in the European Union, yet without language skills it makes it difficult for Ukrainians to take advantage of the shortage of workers. Besides some difficulties in finding accommodation, the inability to speak and read Czech makes it difficult for Ukrainians to find jobs. The Czech government appears to have initially reduced benefits for Ukrainian refugees in order to push them to become employed. In order for this to become feasible, Ukrainians need assistance in learning the Czech language. This could include language courses so Ukrainians can gain some basic knowledge of the language and the government can gear the courses towards sectors Ukrainians can easily get jobs in based on their previous work history and job vacancies in Czechia. A headhunter in Czechia has organized a language course for those interested in learning Czech, there needs to be a national effort from the government rather than burdening private citizens to help Ukrainians integrate into the nation.
There are concerns that due to difficulties in finding official work and due to cuts in government assistance that Ukrainians will try to find employment in the shadow economy. Ukrainians have already been taken advantage of in Spain. Three factories in Spain with the capacity to produce 540,000 packs of cigarettes daily. The Ukrainians were living in unsafe conditions in housing near the factories. Employment statistics for Ukrainians however are not all terrible as a year after the invasion of Ukraine started, 60 percent of Ukrainians temporarily relocated in the EU already had jobs.
As some Ukrainians who have arrived in Czechia lost everything due to their homes being destroyed in the war, they may be in Czechia for years or even try to stay permanently. Czechia can benefit from this if it works on integrating Ukrainians into the nation and workforce. According to economists, its current unemployment is too low and can impact the nation’s economic growth. Helping more Ukrainians enter the workforce however can help alleviate this pressure on the Czech economy and help fill job openings. One way to do this is working on a process to recognize the qualifications of Ukrainians that currently are not accepted in Ukraine. This includes Ukrainian nurses and doctors. Part of the problem is many had to flee without important documents leaving them without proof of their credentials in order to find jobs in Czechia and other nations.
While European Union member states are facing difficult economic conditions it is still important to look after the wellbeing of Ukrainians temporarily resettled in the EU. Member states such as Czechia can incorporate Ukrainians into the workforce but this will require helping them learn EU languages in order to be able to work. This would also allow Ukrainians to also be more independent in other ways including searching for housing on their own rather than depending on others due to not being able to read advertisements for vacant housing. EU member states also must be careful that Ukrainians are not being taken advantage of in the shadow economy by businesses attempting to cut costs. While Ukrainians have received financial assistance from the Czech national government, Ukrainians have also contributed to the national economy as well. Even if the Czech government was not very enthusiastic about Ukrainians arriving in Ukraine, Czech citizens stepped up and helped Ukrainians as much as they could.
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