Prague buckles under pressure as majority of war refugees head to capital

The crowd of Ukrainian refugees queuing outside the Prague Congress Center had grown day by day until on Monday authorities were forced to close the door to other applicants – which is no good easy to deal with long lines of exhausted women and children. (80% of adult refugees are women and 55% of the total number of refugees are minors). to cope.

“We are facing a migration crisis of unprecedented magnitude. The majority of the refugees who have come here have come to Prague and this is proving to be a problem. Our enrollment centers can serve 8,000 to 10,000 applicants per day. Anything above is a problem. Today the center was forced to close as it was packed – we need to give people space to sit, fill out registration forms and get basic refreshments like a glass of water or a snack.

Ukrainian refugees at the Prague Congress Center |  Photo: Vit Simánek, ČTK

After a slow start as the Czech Republic processed five thousand registrations in the early days of the Russian aggression, interest in boarding trains to Prague skyrocketed and last weekend the Ministry of the Interior announced that there were 100,000 Ukrainian war refugees in the country.

The government, which ran daily humanitarian trains to the Polish and Slovak border, all of which ended at Prague’s central station, was forced to review the situation. It has started ferrying some of those already there to less crowded registration centers in the regions and bringing them back to Prague to ease the burden on the employees and the refugees themselves. Authorities are currently negotiating with Czech Railways and private carriers to allow trains and buses carrying refugees to also run to other cities.

Although the interior minister said it was up to the refugees themselves to decide whether they wanted to come to Prague after registering elsewhere, he warned that the focus on Prague could be a problem for providing the necessary care that will have to come in the second and third stages of the refugee effort – such as helping newcomers find jobs, schools, doctors and dentists.

He said regional governors should meet to discuss their individual capacity in this regard and authorities may soon have to start thinking in terms of a cap on the number of refugees the country can accommodate. However, he pointed out that at present the Czech Republic is determined to welcome as many as possible, which could be several hundred thousand. Already, of the 100,000 here, 57,000 have been granted one-year humanitarian visas.

Berta D. Wells