Slovakia's Migrants Keep A Low Profile In A Country Wary Of Outsiders : Parallels Slovakia has never been particularly welcoming to migrants and it resisted the most recent influx to Europe. Those who came a generation ago say they are still often seen as outsiders.

Slovakia's Migrants Keep A Low Profile In A Country Wary Of Outsiders

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KELLY MCEVERS, HOST:

Slovakia is one country that has resisted taking in a share of the refugees and migrants coming to Europe. And we're going to go now to the Slovak capital, Bratislava, where reporter Joanna Kakissis found a tiny immigrant community that arrived decades ago. As she learned, it's thrived by staying under the radar.

NGUYEN KIEN TRUNG: We can go to...

JOANNA KAKISSIS, BYLINE: There's a street in a warehouse district of Bratislava that's lined with Vietnamese businesses. Drive by and you'll see clothing outlets and a place to eat the famous Vietnamese noodle soup called pho.

TRUNG: You can go inside there so you can see.

KAKISSIS: Oh, there's a pho restaurant (laughter).

TRUNG: Yes, it's a good one.

KAKISSIS: Thirty-two-year-old Nguyen Kien Trung is showing me around. His family has imported and sold Vietnamese-made clothes in Slovakia for 18 years.

TRUNG: Slovak people perceive us as very, very hardworking people. We practically don't have holidays.

KAKISSIS: We stop by his family's warehouse where Trung's aunt and uncle greet us in Vietnamese. Trung's parents came to Slovakia about 30 years ago when it was still part of Czechoslovakia. Like others from North Vietnam, they found opportunities in communist Eastern Europe. Slovakia gained independence in 1993. At least 3,000 Vietnamese now live here. Claudia Tran was born and raised in Slovakia. She's 21, a university student who manages a nonprofit. I meet her at a hipster cafe in a cobblestoned old section of Bratislava.

CLAUDIA TRAN: Here in Bratislava, sometimes when I walk through the street, people will just look. I don't know if it's because, you know, they stare because I'm a woman or is it because I'm an Asian? But still they stare.

KAKISSIS: Her parents, top-notch students in Vietnam, came to Eastern Europe on university scholarships.

TRAN: And that's why my dad ended up in Poland and my mom ended up in Slovakia. And yeah, they are both engineers.

KAKISSIS: But it was hard to find work.

TRAN: The easiest way for them to earn money was just to sell everything they could, like, to do business and that's how they came to their current business. And they sell the clothing for children.

KAKISSIS: Tran is having hot chocolate with Lani Willmar, who's 22 and from Corona, Calif. Her parents fled South Vietnam by boat and came as refugees to the U.S.

LANI WILLMAR: I'm a first-generation college student.

KAKISSIS: Now this American is on a Fulbright, teaching English in a country where just a little over 1 percent of the population is foreign-born. She defends multiculturalism to skeptical young Slovaks.

WILLMAR: Yes, there are problems. Yes, there's racism. But it doesn't mean that's you should write off multiculturalism completely because if that were the case I wouldn't be there. My family wouldn't be there and life would be very different in the U.S.

KAKISSIS: But Europe is not the U.S., says Eva Kellerova, a retired scientist I met in Bratislava.

EVA KELLEROVA: (Foreign language spoken).

KAKISSIS: She says her heart breaks when she sees the thousands of Syrians and other refugees on TV, exhausted families trudging through the mud and cold. But she says it almost looks like an invasion. The Vietnamese came quietly, and she says it was a...

DANIELA KELLEROVA: Peaceful and calmer time then. And we took them in, and, like, it was OK, and it wasn't in such a, like, chaotic situation as it is nowadays.

KAKISSIS: That's her granddaughter, Daniela Kellerova, translating. Daniela, like many bright young Slovaks, is studying abroad in Scotland and does not plan to come home anytime soon. She's part of the brain drain that turning Slovakia into an aging society, a society that might benefit from an infusion of immigrants. For NPR News, I'm Joanna Kakissis in Bratislava, Slovakia.

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