A year since the Russian military invasion of Ukraine, 22,000 Ukrainians have found refuge in Croatia, and the biggest hurdle they encounter is the insufficient knowledge of the Croatian language, which causes them problems in exercising their rights and finding work in their profession.
“The integration of displaced Ukrainians in Croatia is not something that happens overnight. It is a process that will take a while,” the head of the Ukrainian community in Zagreb, Marija Melesko, told the Croatian state news agency Hina.
“Among the most frequent problems that we hear of in our communication with our displaced persons is the insufficient knowledge of the Croatian language,” she said.
Although Ukrainian and Croatian are similar languages, the lack of knowledge of Croatian causes problems to refugees, including during their visits to doctors, in exercising the rights accorded to them by the government and in finding work in their profession.
Still, Ukrainians in Croatia mostly exercise the rights guaranteed to them by the state. “However, they first need to get the information about those rights and then find a way how to exercise them,” Melesko said.
968 people hired through employment bureau
The records of the Croatian Employment Service (HZZ) currently list 612 persons with temporary protection status, and 968 persons have been employed through the HZZ since the introduction of this status.
Among the persons with temporary protection status, about 70 per cent of them have a university degree. Among them are many medical doctors, but none of them has found employment in their profession to date, although some of them have initiated the procedure for diploma recognition as the first step, Melesko said.
“We have doctors who are employed in less skilled jobs. There are education counsellors, psychologists, highly educated people who cannot find appropriate jobs because they do not know the language well enough,” she said, adding that the high cost of recognition of professional qualifications, including the translation of hundreds of pages, is also a problem.
Nurses working as cleaners or caregivers
Melesko noted that highly educated people can only profit from online work, while in all other situations they have to work below their qualifications and for lower pay.
They often do manual work. For example, nurses are working as cleaners or caregivers because they first have to learn the language and have their diploma recognised.
Some of the Ukrainians, mostly medical staff, are thinking of leaving for other countries where the situation will be more favourable for them.
Croatian language courses for Ukrainian refugees are conducted by civil society organisations, volunteers and members of the Ukrainian community, but there is no official course that they could attend. Language learning is easier for children, especially for those in the lower years of primary school, who learn through play and motivate their parents.
The Croatian Catholic University has provided considerable assistance in that regard, launching the first integration program for attendees to learn the language, culture and tradition. However, it is available only to those living in Zagreb and its surroundings.
Most refugees staying in private accommodation
Another problem faced by Ukrainian refugees in Croatia is housing, because the demand for apartments surpasses the supply, especially in Zagreb.
“We often hear that there are no apartments available, and if there are, (Ukrainians) are turned down by Croatian hosts, not because of discrimination, but because of uncertainty,” Melesko said. “Refugees are a special category of people who do not have high incomes or guarantees that they will have a job tomorrow, and landlords want to be certain about their tenants,” she added.
A smaller portion of refugees are staying in collective accommodation, while the majority are in private accommodation, including those with rental contracts obtained through the Ministry of the Interior. Many pay rent from their own income and some live in the houses of their owners for free, Melesko said.
1,263 pupils attending primary school
It is estimated that most of the Ukrainian refugees live in Zagreb, Split, Rijeka and Osijek as well as in Istria, Varazdin and Lika-Senj counties.
Refugees with the status of displaced person in Croatia are guaranteed many rights, including the right to work and health care. According to the Ministry of Science and Education, 1,263 pupils are currently enrolled in primary school and 254 in secondary school.
Pupils are provided with free textbooks and have their extracurricular activities co-financed by the government. They can also attend preparatory Croatian language classes and remedial classes.
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