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Abstract (English)

"SOZE" – Society of Citizens Assisting Migrants - is a non-governmental, non-profit organisation. Its aim is to assist refugees and foreigners coming to the Czech Republic. The support cover free of charge legal, social and psychological counselling, organising of leisure-time and educational activities and complex social-legal assistance to long-term legally residing foreigners, during the challenging process of integration into the Czech society.


Abstract (italiano)

"SOZE" – Società dei cittadini che assistono gli immigrati – è un’organizzazione non governativa e no-profit. Il suo scopo è di assistere i rifugiati e gli stranieri che giungono nella Repubblica Ceca. Il sostegno consiste nella copertura gratuita delle spese legali, delle consulenze sociali e psicologiche, dell’organizzazione di attività educative e per il tempo libero e del complesso dell’assistenza a lungo termine per le questioni sociali e legali degli stranieri residenti durante il combattuto processo di integrazione nella società ceca.

1 The practice

1.1 Description of the project

The main objectives of "SOZE" are to assist refugees and foreigners going to the Czech Republic thus contributing to the development of the tolerant multi-cultural society and to find durable acceptable solutions for individuals, families, as well as refugee communities, either by their full integration into the Czech society.

The activities developed by "SOZE" include providing legal and social counselling to asylum seekers,
educational activities for adults, and leisure-time activities for children. "SOZE" also has an asylum house, a multicultural centre, and works on refugee clinics. SOZE delivers humanitarian aid (especially drugs, clothes, toys, toiletries and sweets) to Romania and Moldova and publishes papers related to asylum seeking.

Psychological counselling

Psychological counselling is integral and indispensable part of "SOZE"’s activities. It is focused on help to cope with serious psychological problems and difficulties connected with the leave of the homeland and with the necessity to reside in strange country. The psychologist thus assists to solve not only traumas, which refugees bring already from countries of origin, but also adaptation problems originating from common accommodation of applicants with different ethnic, cultural and customs background, neurotic troubles of anxious or depressive character, arising from the disproportionately length of asylum procedure and interpersonal conflicts. Psychological Counselling is provided in the co-operation with the UNHCR, Ministry of Interior and Refugee Facilities Administration.

1.2 Time, structure and steps of the project

"SOZE" – Society of Citizens Assisting Migrants - is a non-governmental, non-profit organisation. Its aim is to assist refugees and foreigners coming to the Czech Republic. The support cover free of charge legal, social and psychological counselling, organising of leisure-time and educational activities and complex social-legal assistance to long-term legally residing foreigners, during the process of integration into the Czech society.

"SOZE" was established as a response to the first wave of refugees entering Czechoslovakia in 1990, and it was registered with the Ministry of Interior of the Czech Republic in 1992. It is based in Brno and its expert and experienced advisors provide assistance not only in the Brno office, but also in all refugee centres on the territory of Moravia and Silesia. Moreover, "SOZE", independently runs two accommodation centres for rejected asylum seekers with toleration status, who had to leave refugee accommodation centres, while they were expecting the final decision of the High Court. Last but not least, the society runs a multicultural asylum house in Brno. Higher level of care and protection is given to vulnerable categories of refugees and aliens, as for instance single women, women with children, numerous families, unaccompanied minors, ill or handicapped persons etc.
By organising lectures, cultural events, as exhibitions, seminars and national cultural events, "SOZE" tries to reduce distrust, intolerance and xenophobia in the society, and at the same time, to support awareness of the public in the field of human rights and principles of rule of law. Expert activities of the "SOZE" in the field of alien, asylum and migration law focus on participation in the work of expert commissions on national as well as international level. "SOZE" further participates in legislative process and in elaborating of expert studies, analyses and recommendations.
"SOZE" works in a long-term close co-operation with the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR). In compliance with international legal documents – particularly Convention relating to the Status of Refugees (Geneva Convention, 1951), Convention on the Rights of the Child, Convention against Torture and other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment and other international conventions setting basic human rights and freedoms – SOZE tries to ensure at least minimum standards of asylum procedure. They seek for permanent acceptable solutions for individuals, families, as well as refugee communities, either by their full integration into the Czech society, or by their voluntary repatriation into the country of origin.

1.3 Place and context

Asylum seekers constitute the group that first and foremost benefits from "SOZE"’s counselling activities. Asylum seekers, from individuals to large families with small children, were forced to leave homes and to flee from war, violence, torture and/or persecution and to travel hundreds and thousands of kilometres in fear for dear life. Very often these persons suffer from various types of physical and/or mental troubles due to their previous traumatic experiences and need therefore our assistance. They pay special attention to the most vulnerable among them – single women and mothers with children, separated minors, elderly and disabled persons.

Those asylum seekers, who have succeeded in asylum procedure and were granted asylum, pass to the status of recognized refugees. These people who face at the commencement of the integration process many objective handicaps/barriers and has to cope with the Czech language familiarizing and job/accommodation seeking, need our complex assistance during the demanding process of their integration as well. The Czech Republic belongs to the countries with the most rapid growth of foreign population in the world. Foreigners who are long-term residents (foreigners under the permanent residence permit or long-term visa) thus constitute ever-rising group of their clients. Regardless to the purpose of their stay (marriage with a Czech citizen, studies or employment), they also need our assistance in adaptation to the unknown environment and to become familiar with the new socio-cultural background.

1.4 Target

Being a refugee brings a lot of psychic distress, which is not always possible to cope without psychological assistance. Many refugees have suffered in country of origin from physical and mental violence, sexual abuse, pressure, everyday stress and/or harassment or have a war experience. They have to face up to painful and traumatizing experiences. Such process is not always easy and it is hard to succeed in. Such struggle is accompanying with extremely stressful and long waiting for being granted asylum and living in a refugee camp with no privacy.

1.5 Methodology

Expert and analytical activities in the field of alien and asylum law, including legislative advocacy, constitutes an important element of "SOZE"’s work.

"SOZE" thus actively takes part in the drafting/advocacy of legislative proposals regulating foreigners’ and refugees’ rights and duties on territory of the Czech Republic towards reinforcement of the respect to the democratic principles within the state administration. In this regard, SOZE uses its experts’ involvement in the work of Committee on the Rights of Foreigners under the Government Council for Human Rights, commissions of the Ministry of Interior and the Ministry of Labour and Social Affairs, dealing with the issues of foreigners and refugees, and similar commissions on regional and local level.

Together with the work developed by "SOZE"’S professionals, the organisation also benefits from high school and university students who practice their studies with "SOZE" in the fields of economics, law, and humanitarian actions. Collaboration with "SOZE" is also an alternative for those Czech citizens who prefer performance of an interesting alternative civil service.

1.6 Authors, financing and networks

Volunteers Network
Many volunteers participate in realisation of "SOZE"’s projects. They supplement the "SOZE" specialised counselling staff, and help to realize daily activities, as well as preparation of the extraordinary ones. They are the staff reserve for unexpected crisis situations (e.g. massive influx of refugees).

Volunteers represent the engaged civil society, with sense of solidarity and will to help people in need. Volunteers usually are coming from churches, students of social, legal, psychological and theological schools, and also from members and supporters of minorities.
Cooking with women producing of plaster masks

Activities of this organisation and assistance to refugees is possible in addition to grants and projects also thanks to financial and material donations provided by firms, businessmen, and as well individuals. Refugees were given a lot of clothing, school requirements, sweets, special nutrition packages for infants and toddlers and other items from humanitarian collections, and number of various social, cultural, religious and sport events arranged. Both helped refugees to cope with their difficult conditions, to forget about experienced suffering at least for a while, and to escape the fear of an uncertain future.

Collaborations, networks:
"SOZE" is a member of ECRE (European Council on Refugees and Exiles) - associated European NGOs dealing with refugee issues and monitoring human rights situation of refugees in the member countries.
Among other international partners "SOZE" cooperates with is WCC (World Council of Churches), CEC (Conference of European Churches), IOM (International Organisation for Migration), and NGOs from partner town of the city of Brno – Leipzig and others.

By realisation of its projects, "SOZE" develops co-operation with many state as well as non-state organisations, with competent central, regional and local authorities (Ministry of Interior, Ministry of Labour and Social Affairs, Aliens Police, Labour Offices, Social Departments of Town Halls, Brno Town Hall). Likewise, "SOZE" co-operates with NGOs of similar specialisation -Counselling Centre for Refugees (PPU), Organization for Aid to Refugees (OPU), Counselling Centre for Integration (PPI), Orthodox Diaconia, Czech Catholic Caritas, Ecumenical Diaconia and others.

"SOZE" representatives actively participated in the working groups of the Commission of the Minister of Interior for preparation and realisation of the government policies in the field of integration of aliens and development of relations between communities, as well as in the similar Commission under Ministry of Labour and Social Affairs.
These working groups analyse legal and practical implications of integration of aliens into the Czech society, they also raised initiatives in the process of preparation of legal documents setting rights and duties of aliens and refugees on the territory, and consequently changes and amendments to these documents.
"SOZE" was invited to cooperate with the Ministry of Labour and Social Affairs in relationship with the approval of the pilot project regarding actively recruitment of foreign workers, and its experts elaborated comprehensive cultural-social profiles of first three countries, having their citizens included.
In the year of 2002, "SOZE" also participated in international seminars and conferences organised by UNHCR, ECRE, European Parliament, Council of Europe, and European governments. They further attended seminars on national or local levels dealing with human and minority rights issues, trafficking etc. Cultural and educational activities of "SOZE" included organising of lectures at schools of social and legal specialisation and providing internships/professional training for students of these schools.

"SOZE" partners and sponsors:

  • UNHCR – Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees is constantly the most important partner; it enables "SOZE" to provide the basic projects of legal, social and psychological counselling.
  • Ministry of Interior, Department on Asylum and Migration Policy - projects aimed at legal counselling for asylum seekers and integration of refugees, and providing of social-legal assistance to long-term legally residing foreigners on the territory of Moravia and Silesia.
  • Ministry of Interior – Refugee Facilities Administration – projects of legal and psychological counselling and leisure-time activities, and complex counselling, accommodation and board for foreigners under the toleration status.
  • Ministry of Education, Youth and Sports – tuition of the Czech language for recognised refugees within the state integration program, courses of Czech language for foreigners and leisure-time activities for children.
  • Ministry of Labour and Social Affairs - projects on integration of foreigners into the major society and the Asylum House for Foreigners.
  • Ministry of Culture – project on cultural and religious centre for migrants and refugees in the premises of Asylum House.
  • Open Society Fund Prague - projects on refugee legal clinic for students of Faculty of Law of the Masaryk University in Brno, monitoring of asylum/alien legislation and practice in the Czech Republic and strengthening of gender sensitivity within the asylum procedure.
  • Brno Town Hall - on a long-term basis supports "SOZE" activities, as to social-legal assistance to refugees and foreigners residing on the territory of the city.
  • Help the Children – a programme of NROS – Foundation for Development of the Civil Society and of the Czech Television has funded the project already from 2000.
  • World Council of Churches – support of groups at risk within the refugee population.
  • JMK - Office of South-Moravian Region – supports projects on secondary drug prevention of asylum seekers on the territory of South-Moravian region and the Asylum House for Foreigners.
  • European Union Socrates/Grundtvig program – project on mutual exchange of experience among EU member countries.
  • MATRA-KAP / Small Embassy Projects - the Netherlands Embassy in the Czech Republic supported project on refugee social/psychological clinics.
  • Dagmar and Vaclav Havel Foundation Vize 97 – supported project “Refugee women against xenophobia and intolerance”.

2 Hints for an evaluation