Karin Hoření, Karel Čada and Dino Numerato
“NGOs are transporting refugees to Europe,” wrote an ex-European MP Petr Mach on his blog in summer 2019 who criticised the fact that the City of Prague financed the organisation Médecins sans Frontières. This was not the first time thatnon-governmental organisations (NGOs) have been targeted with verbal attacks in the Czech Republic. Employees and activists been subjected to threats of violence and even death. "We wish they cut your head off", read one of the text messages that Magda Faltová, the director of the Association for Integration and Migration, received recently. These examples illustrate well the hostile conditions that Czech NGOs working with migrants have to face.
Even though NGOs are sometimes labelled as public enemies, they represent the key partner of the public sector in the provision of integration services delivered to migrants, refugees and asylum seekers. It is unsurprising that the integration activities are mostly funded by the state.
On the one hand, the close cooperation between the state and NGOs is crucial for providing services and implementing key policy strategies. Nevertheless, on the other hand, through such funding, the Ministry determines the agenda of NGOs. Similar to other countries, NGOs work in uncertain and precarious conditions. Their existence is endangered by the permanent risk of budget cuts and because of anti-migration attitudes in the Czech public, funding opportunities outside the public realm are very limited. Private donors are extremely prudent in their support of the integration agenda, also considering that the topic of migration has become highly contested in the Czech public sphere, with a proliferation of hostile and xenophobic positions.
Although NGOs are the main providers of labour market integration services, their role is frequently disregarded and unrecognised. NGOs are also able to target only a small section of the migrant population, due to insecure funding. Furthermore, cultural factors influence the use of integration services. A more nuanced look at the perspective of MRAs also suggested that many MRAs have little or no awareness of NGOs and their integration services, partly due to the limited capacities of the NGOs.
MRAs prefer various self-help groups which are active, especially on Facebook, as well as family networks, or private intermediaries. While more educated migrants working in skilled positions do use the services of private companies as a substitute for the services of NGOs, lower skilled migrants use the services of intermediaries, and as such often run the risk of being exposed to exploitation and illegal practices.
Moreover, the reluctance to make use the services offered by NGOs derives from deeper cultural reasons. Many MRAs are not familiar with the concept of the non-governmental sector. Sometimes, they perceive NGO services provided for free as being less effective, and some MRAs would also view their own use of NGO services as a source of personal humiliation. “I always thought to myself. I am not one of the poor labourers who are using their services,” said a young student of Ukrainian origin.
Moreover, financial insecurities and dependency on the state hinder the capacities of NGOs to develop their projects and to advance their potential. However, the provision of funding does not necessarily imply the full colonisation of civil society by the state. NGO representatives remain critical and reflexive towards state integration policies in their everyday operations. Moreover, the critical position of NGOs is embodied mostly by the Consortium of Migrants Assisting Organizations, which is, as an umbrella organisation, the most vocal critic of state policies and an advocate of migrants’ rights.
Although the demand for integration services secured by NGOs is currently lower due to the economic boom and low unemployment rates, their provision is vital for numerous refugees and asylum seekers. In future, the importance of NGOs may be even greater in the context of less favourable economic conditions. Considering that NGOs represent a cornerstone of the Czech integration policy architecture, they would benefit from increased support to ensure their sustainability. Greater financial support would enable them to make more efficient use of the knowledge and expertise that they have accumulated through the course of their experience, all of which remains threatened by precariousness.
You can read more on the role of NGOs involved in labour market integration in the Czech Republic via our recently released SIRIUS report: