Interview with Ms Kaličinská (OPU) by Kamil P. Ivan and Tatiana Savchenko

Tatiana Savchenko and I met Ms Kaličinská, a member of the OPU (Organization for Aid to Refugees) at a cosy café in Brno. As an OPU worker Mrs Kaličinská is responsible for educational activities in the refugee camps. That was the reason why we, students at the Faculty of Education, chose Mrs Kaličinská for our interview. We talked about refugees and migrants and possible ways to help them.

Ms Kaličinská described the OPU’s structure and policy. It works with migrants who have come to the Czech Republic to study, and also with refugees. We asked Ms Kaličinská if our faculty could help refugees in any way and she replied that nowadays refugee camps require books, especially in English and other foreign languages.

Ms Kaličinská added that board games, cards, and art accessories are welcomed, too. “Art accessories are needed in refugee facilities because most refugees feel extremely insecure. They have come to an environment that does not match their expectations,” explained Ms Kaličinská. She also mentioned other reason for this level of insecurity. Refugees often have no idea why they are in detention centres. Refugees’ children may sometimes see their parents being handcuffed. And when a refugee asks for asylum, again they are anxious because they do not know whether the asylum will be accepted or not.

“Refugees have plenty of free time in detention centres,” said Ms Kaličinská. In order to kill time there, people can read books and attend art workshops. Those activities help people to stay mentally healthy. “It is not about art therapy; it is just about the meaningful use of leisure time. Workshops cooperate with the social services,” she added. In such a workshop, a person may express what is on his or her mind while painting. Therefore a psychologist visits the detention centres from time to time.

Tatiana asked whether the refugees can find work. The answer to this question was negative. The law of the Czech Republic forbids refugees to work for one year after their arrival in this country. This restriction is to prevent refugees from taking places in the labour market. “After a year, they can look for a job. A lot of refugees do not have a university degree and if they do, their diploma requires nostrification from a Czech university. Nostrification is a complicated procedure and is also one of the main reasons why most migrants do jobs that require no qualifications. ” Many refugees with degrees are doctors, but they must have certification in Czech for the right to work in this country.

The topic of refugees has attracted a lot of media attention. “There have always been refugees. There have been waves that are significant in terms ofnumbers. The Czech Republic opened its doors to people from Bosnia, then from Chechnya. There were hundreds of asylum applications. The refugee camps were overcrowded. Nowadays there are only three camps in the Czech Republic, but before there were many more.” Ms Kaličinská also told us that when the Czech Republic entered the European Union, those camps were closed. Probably it was too expensive to run them and the government hoped that no such refugee crisis would ever happen again. As we can see,the Czech Republic has quite a lot of experience with refugees.

Ms Kaličinská explained why most refugees do not want to stay here. She told us that these people were expelled from their homes against their will. Refugees do not decide to live somewhere else. If everything was all right there, people would never decide to leave their homelands.

The OPU’s job is to help foreigners get acquainted with the Czech Republic’slaws, traditions and legislation, and to tell them what they are and are not entitled to. Ms Kaličinská mentioned that sometimes immigrants pay lots of money to various so-called “dealers” in order to get basic documents. The OPU helps people save money and get necessary papers, not for free but for fees far lower than those quoted by “special agencies”.

Ms Kaličinská closed the interview by saying that students’ help is always welcome. Each one of us may help collect books for the refugee camps. If you come across boxes that say ‘Books’ or ‘Socks’ and choose to contribute, you can be sure that your contribution will be delivered to and much appreciated by those in need.