Czech mission to Malaysia paving way for landmark resettlement programme

News Stories, 24 July 2008

© UNHCR/Y.Ismail
Refugee children from Myanmar wait at the UNHCR office in Kuala Lumpur for an interview with the Czech delegation.

KUALA LUMPUR, Malaysia, 24 July 2008 (UNHCR) With the wrap-up of a selection mission to Malaysia this week, the Czech Republic is on its way to becoming the first former Eastern Bloc nation to become a resettlement country for refugees.

Henrik Nordentoft, acting UNHCR representative in Malaysia, said that while the Czechs have a history of receiving refugees, this is the first time a resettlement programme is being formalized where the Czech government selects refugees to start a new life in the country. The small Central European country is initially to take about two dozen Myanmar refugees from Malaysia.

"The Czech Republic joins a small group of countries who offer resettlement to refugees and UNHCR is grateful to the Czech Republic for responding to our call to countries to offer this vital assistance to refugees," added Nordentoft. "For many refugees, being offered a new home in another country can mean the difference between life and death. It offers refugees both protection and a lasting solution to their plight."

A Czech delegation is completing a mission to Kuala Lumpur to interview some 40 refugees for selection and to provide cultural orientation. The Czech pilot programme is aimed at helping vulnerable refugees, so top consideration was given to survivors of trauma, refugees with serious medical problems, or protection needs.

"This pilot resettlement programme is part of the Czech Republic's foreign policy, providing humanitarian assistance where it can make a positive impact," said Katerina Stehlikova, head of the delegation from the Czech Ministry of Interior.

"We wish to start small with this pilot initiative, and after evaluating its implementation, we will be able to consider further expanding it to include larger numbers of refugees and those hosted by other countries in this region," she said.

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 Republic joins the ranks of some 19 countries worldwide that open their doors annually to refugees through formal resettlement programmes, and is the eighth European Union country to have established such a programme. Some 70,000 refugees are accepted for resettlement worldwide every year.

Although this is the first time a group of refugees from Myanmar will be resettled to the Czech Republic, Stehlikova did not think that integration would be a significant problem. She said many Asians from Viet Nam, Mongolia, China and even Myanmar were already living in the country and have been accepted by the local population.

The Czech government also has social and welfare assistance programmes to help the new residents settle in, with the help of previous Myanmar arrivals.

Currently in Malaysia there are some 40,900 refugees and asylum seekers registered with UNHCR. The majority are from Myanmar, having fled persecution and widespread human rights abuses in the country.

By Yante Ismail in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia