Prague, Czech Republic – Czech President Miloš Zeman has called Romani refugees fleeing the war in Ukraine “economic migrants”, local advocacy group Romea reported.
Talking on CNN Prima News, Zeman praised “the support of the Czech nation” towards the more than 300,000 Ukrainian refugees who came to the Czech Republic since the start of Russia’s invasion.
He differentiated between the current refugee waves from Ukraine, who “fall into our cultural circle, not just linguistically but also because of their Christian roots and the like”, and people coming from Muslim countries, who according to him have mostly been “economic migrants” and “live in a very different Islamic culture.”
The Czech head of state said that he expected many Ukrainians to return home once the war ends.
“Because they are not economic migrants, because they are really refugees from war who, under normal conditions, want to live in Ukraine,” he said.
“I would make one little exception here in terms of Romani Ukrainians,” the president, known for his disparaging comments towards ethnic minorities, added. “I am not sure whether they aren’t economic migrants. However, they are a very minor exception, about 2,000 people”.
More than 5.5 million people have left Ukraine since the start of the conflict, most of them women and underage children. Over 3 million have found refuge in neighbouring Poland, with hundreds of thousands also fleeing to Romania, Moldova, Hungary, Slovakia, and the Czech Republic.
Zeman’s comment comes amidst several reports of discrimination towards Romani refugees from Ukraine, whether in the Czech Republic or other countries.
Ukraine was home to an estimated 400,000 Roma people before the beginning of Moscow’s invasion. Many of them have long been undocumented, further complicating their administrative claims for international protection and refugee status.