UNICEF Refugee Response in the Czech Republic
Supporting families who fled the war and promoting the rights of every child in the Czech Republic
The war in Ukraine forced close to 8 million people, mostly women and children, to leave their homes in search for safety in neighbouring countries. Of these, over 340,000 people have settled temporarily in the Czech Republic. The solidarity and support of the government and people of the Czech Republic have been remarkable. At the same time, the increasing number of new arrivals has put a significant strain on service provision systems, both at the national and local levels.
As part of the United Nation’s regional refugee response, UNICEF established its Refugee Response Office in partnership with the national and local government, as well as civil society. The Office’s programme focuses on strengthening national capacities to provide critical services to refugee children, including access to early childhood development, education, healthcare, child protection, social protection, adolescent development, mental health, and psychosocial support, with particular emphasis on the most vulnerable.
Social cohesion and adolescent development were identified as two cross-sectoral priorities for the programme. While the programme specifically supports refugees, all children and families in the Czech Republic will ultimately benefit from strengthened systems and improved availability of services.
Our programmes in Czech Republic
Every child has the right to equitable, safe and quality learning, regardless of their gender, socio-economic status, abilities or disabilities, ethnic and cultural backgrounds, or refugee status. For children fleeing the war in Ukraine, education is more than just the right to learn. It provides them with access to a safe and nurturing space, an enabling learning environment for positive mental health and well-being , and opportunities to develop skills and competencies to imagine and realize a successful future.
Education and learning – from early childhood to adolescence – is one of the most critical elements for the sound development of children and young people, especially for those who have dealt with traumatic or stressful situations. Early childhood education (ECE) provides a safe space for children under 6 years old to play, learn and cope with loss and displacement while allowing parents, particularly mothers, to study and work. Quality education equips refugee children and adolescents with knowledge and skills that can help them rebuild their lives in the host country.
Over 140,000 school-aged children have been registered as refugees in the Czech Republic as of November 2022. This sudden influx and increase of student population poses an unprecedent challenge for the country. But the Czech Government and people have shown tremendous solidarity and have welcomed newly arrived children and young people to their schools.
According to data from September 2022, only about 57,000 Ukrainian students have been enrolled in Czech schools despite support from government entities, civil society and the general public. Less than 20% of adolescents over 15 years old are enrolled in Czech secondary schools.
The municipalities that host many Ukrainian refugees face challenges such as limited school spaces, materials and capacity of teachers to manage classrooms with students who speak two or more languages, have different skills levels, or might need specialized mental health support, as well as difficulty in communicating with Ukrainian parents and families.
UNICEF works together with the Government of the Czech Republic and a variety of partners at the central, regional and municipality level to ensure quality education and learning for all Ukrainian children.
At least 75,000 children in the refugee and host communities will benefit from quality learning and development opportunities. UNICEF will help strengthen the country’s education system so that all children in the Czech Republic, especially the most vulnerable, can benefit from inclusive education and learning.
A large-scale training of 4,000 Czech education staff in pre-primary, primary and secondary schools across the country has been launched to build their capacity in inclusive education and to support refugee and other disadvantaged students (such as Roma and children with disabilities). In addition, training of 2,000 teaching assistants (both Ukrainian and Czech) is underway in all regions to facilitate the integration of the refugee children and improve social cohesion in schools.
To support early learning and development of young children, UNICEF ensures 1,000 places for children under 5 years old under the grant scheme of the Ministry of Labour and Social Affairs.
The website "together in school" was launched to provide information and guidance to Ukrainian parents on how to enroll their children in school. Moreover, a Czech and Ukrainian language helpdesk is operating in the Ministry of Education, Sports and Youth with the support of UNICEF, to provide information on schools and education for Ukrainian children.
Through the partnership with the Municipality of Prague, up to 9,000 Ukrainian children will be supported with school lunches and preparatory courses, including intensive Czech language classes, to ease their successful integration in schools.
Lastly, UNICEF-supported surveys and mapping of refugee children’s access to education and early learning will help improve the quality of social services, including education and learning from early childhood to adolescence.
Refugee children are often more vulnerable to child protection risks and violations including: separation from their families, neglect, violence and abuse, psychological disorders and distress, isolation, discrimination, economic exploitation, trafficking and child marriage.
Unaccompanied and separated children often do not have adequate access to appropriate identification, registration, age assessment, documentation, family tracing, guardianship systems and legal advice.
The Government of the Czech Republic is hosting the highest number of Ukrainian refugees per capita, which is putting enormous strain on the country’s basic services and infrastructure, especially in the area of child protection.
UNICEF’s child protection humanitarian response to the influx of Ukrainian refugees in the Czech Republic builds on existing and well-functioning national systems, and aims to make them more resilient and responsive towards the needs of vulnerable refugee children and adolescents from all backgrounds.
UNICEF works with the Czech government at the national and local level, and with not-for-profit organizations to improve identification mechanisms, awareness raising and to get useful information to vulnerable children and their families.
UNICEF also supports integrated child protection response services through strengthening and expanding government and non-government structures, including mental health and psychosocial support, legal and social counselling, alternative care for unaccompanied and separated children, and case management for children at risk or in need.
Over 26,000 Ukrainian young people live in the Czech Republic, many of whom are not accompanied by their parents or primary caregivers. They are largely invisible within the system and may not be aware of the services that are available to them.
The majority of 15–17-year-old Ukrainian refugees are also not entering formal education in the Czech Republic, with many preferring to follow the online curriculum offered through the Ukrainian education system.
Young refugee people and adolescents benefit from engaging in social activities, which allow them to create positive networks with Czech youth, ultimately benefiting to their socio-emotional wellbeing.
Through partners across the Czech Republic, UNICEF supports a network of youth-friendly spaces that cater for the protection and mental health needs of young people and adolescents, while offering courses to support their entry into formal education or work.
UNICEF also helps bring Czech and Ukrainian youth together through extracurricular activities and a buddy system, ultimately contributing to their positive integration.
Refugee youth face a trade-off between low-skill work to sustain basic needs now and continuing education and training to build skills for the future. Disruption in skills development now will have life-long consequences.
This pledge is a call to action for private sector companies to support 15-24 year-old refugees to pursue their aspirations. Our ambition is that all youth are on a pathway to continued education or professional opportunities, and the impacts of forced displacement does not result in lifelong negative impacts in terms of learning and earning. The private sector can have an important role to play in addressing this challenge through its regular operations, e.g. hiring and professional development.
Conditions for participation
To participate in the Pledge, employers must agree to undertake at least one of the following actions and report on their progress in implementing their Pledge commitments on a quarterly basis. In total, commitments should benefit at minimum 50 youth or 5% of their workforce (for smaller companies).