Last week saw the official opening of a new Integration Centre for foreigners in Prague. Currently, almost twelve percent of the capital’s population are now foreigners, and city hall has been mulling over the plan to open such a centre for a few years now. With the financial crisis looming, Czech ministries are introducing increasingly stricter policies toward foreign workers and other migrants. The Integration Centre is meant to alleviate some of the hurdles that foreigners living here face.
The new centre will offer free legal and social counseling, Czech language and social adaptation courses to foreigners from countries outside of the European Union living in Prague. Clients will also be able to use its computers, a foreign-language library and rooms for free-time activities. Eventually, the Integration Centre wants to also host cultural events for foreigners and Czechs. I asked the center’s director Zdeněk Horváth about the main reasons Prague City Hall decided to open a center like this:
“It’s estimated that there are about two thousand foreigners living in Prague, and more than half of them are people who are not from the EU. So this is kind of a big community and there is no systematic approach to working with them. So the integration centre is meant to find a way to do that. We’re not making the policies, but articulating the main priorities.”
This is the eleventh such centre to open in the Czech Republic but unlike other regional integration centres, the one in Prague chose to directly cooperate with already existing NGOs. Non-profit organizations with proven experience in the field of integration of foreigners will be offering services in the centre’s four neighborhood offices.
Magda Faltová, the director of the Association for Integration and Migration, which will be providing legal and social services at the Prague 13 location, underscored the importance of these joint efforts:
“I think that all of the NGOs in Prague feel that we should cooperate more that share the knowledge we have with integration, and hopefully this center will help us do that. However I think it’s very important to point out that the center should always cooperate with NGos. He have the experience - our organization has been active in the integration of migrants for twenty years – and we have the contacts with the migrants.”
NGOs participating in the project welcome the fact that the centre will give them direct access to city hall officials, and potentially greater influence in molding Prague’s integration policies.
According to Eva Dohnalová, from the organization InBáze Berkat, which will staff the Prague 13 office of the Integration Center, this venture may also help foreigners better understand how they can find assistance in the city:
“It might give some structure in the services for migrants in Prague. Because now there are a few established NGOs that do provide good services for migrants. But it is still not really clear for them who is who and what is the difference between NGOs. So I do expect that this integration center will be a kind of junction where migrants can get the complete picture of all the services for migrants in Prague. It might even create a bit of competition for the NGOs, because the center is funded by the municipality, so they have easier access to funding, but we will see."
For more information about Integration Centre Prague see www.icpraha.com