About 350 Roma have returned to the Czech Republic from the United Kingdom since mid-March and up to 850 others are considering the possibility of doing so as well.
They are returning to the Czech Republic out of fear of COVID-19, but also because of social uncertainties, loss of income, and disinformation spread on the Internet.
The number of Roma leaving the UK for the Czech Republic is not dramatically high, the Czech embassy in London said concerning the recent departure of Roma population.
The primary reasons for leaving the UK is a loss of trust in the British healthcare system amid the pandemic crisis but also loss of jobs and housing.
Roma returning to the Czech Republic mostly prefer staying in a two-week quarantine rather than presenting negative COVID-19 test results. As they often do not have their own homes, they stay with their relatives.
A mass and uncontrolled exodus of Roma to the Czech Republic is very unlikely as there are Czech expatriate communities and organizations in the UK helping solve potential problems on UK soil. Those leaving have in most cases no links to these communities.
However, many of the Czech Roma also face other issues in the UK as they do not have valid personal documents and have not tried to apply for permanent status, which is required of foreigners after Brexit.
Some Czechs may be concerned about the Roma returnees bringing the COVID-19 back to the Czech Republic, but the disease is not widely spread among the Roma community in Leeds where many of them live.
However, smugglers have already started to exploit the current situation, organizing illegal transports from the UK to Czechia for extremely high prices, even charging up to 10,000 korunas (€368) for a single ticket. Moreover, they are raising panic among the Roma by spreading disinformation videos, with one claiming that the British government will take away Roma children.
“Paradoxically, they are driving Czech Roma back to the Czech Republic, but on the other hand, they transport Roma from Slovakia to the UK,” Kostečka said.
On top of that, the passengers are sometimes robbed during the journey or even dropped off along the way without any help.
The integration of Roma returnees in the Czech society is difficult as the local Roma communities often do not accept them. Their children often do not speak Czech anymore, which is why many fail in Czech schools.
There are about 35,000 to 40,000 Czech Roma living in the UK, but those are just estimated numbers as there are no official figures available. The biggest communities are in Leeds, Sheffield, Liverpool, and Manchester.