United States Committee for Refugees and Immigrants, U.S. Committee for Refugees World Refugee Survey 1997 - Czech Republic, 1 January 1997, available at: http://www.refworld.org/docid/3ae6a8b838.html [accessed 29 January 2015]
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During 1996, asylum seekers filed 2,156 applications for asylum in the Czech Republic, a 52 percent increase over the 1,413 applications filed the previous year. As was the case in 1995, the largest number of claimants came from Bulgaria and Romania during 1996, accounting for 835 (39 percent) and 673 (31 percent) applications filed, respectively. Significant numbers of asylum seekers also arrived from Afghanistan (133), Iraq (88), and Armenia (55) during the year. Of the 2,136 cases decided during 1996 (including second-instance appeals), the Czech authorities approved 103 asylum applications in both first-instance determinations and in the administrative appeals process. This corresponds to a 4.8 percent approval rate, a slight increase from 1995 when 3.6 percent of the cases decided were granted asylum. During 1996, the largest number of applicants granted asylum came from Armenia (22), followed by Afghanistan (16), present Yugoslavia (9), and Iraq (8). Some 1,293 cases were refused asylum during 1996, of which 824 and 469 were denied in first- and second-instance decisions, respectively. Romanians and Bulgarians were reported to be among the nationalities with the highest denial rates. An additional 740 cases were closed (in both the first and second instance), often because the applicant had abandoned the application and left the country. Some 657 applications remained pending a decision at the end of 1996. Asylum Procedure On May 31, 1996, an amendment to the Refugee Act (law no. 150/1996) entered into force, removing the previous five-year expiration date on the grant of refugee status. In addition, the amendment provides that recognized refugees will automatically be accorded permanent resident status and are eligible for citizenship after five years. The refugee status of some 57 persons had expired before the amendment became effective, but all were either reconfirmed as refugees in a second status determination or granted permanent resident status in the Czech Republic. Apart from this amendment, no significant legislation on refugees was passed during 1996, despite periodic discussion during the past several years on the possibility of drafting a new refugee law. In the absence of new legislation, the asylum procedure in the Czech Republic is governed by the Refugee Act enacted by the former Czech and Slovak Federal Republic (CSFR) on November 16, 1990. According to the Refugee Act, an asylum seeker should apply for refugee status with passport control officials when entering the Czech Republic and promptly report to a designated refugee reception center. However, the law states that persons who do not comply with this requirement also may apply with the Aliens Police once in the country provided they give "objective reasons" for their delay. In practice, the overwhelming majority of applicants, some 80 to 85 percent according to the Czech Directorate of Aliens and Border Police, apply for asylum once in the country. According to UNHCR, most persons who ask for asylum once "inland" are admitted to the procedure. The Czech authorities generally do not scrutinize the reasons why inland applicants did not apply with the border police, but simply refer them to one of four refugee reception centers where they can formally lodge their claims. Although there appear to be few problems with access to the asylum procedure in most areas of the Czech Republic, insufficiently documented asylum seekers reportedly have encountered difficulties entering the territory and gaining access to the asylum procedure on the Czech Republic's eastern border with Slovakia. According to some humanitarian observers, asylum seekers without the requisite travel papers periodically have been "bounced back" from the Czech Republic to Slovakia without a review on the merits of their claims to refugee status. In an April 1996 meeting with USCR, representatives of the Czech Aliens and Border Police denied allegations that they were blocking access to the Czech asylum procedure at any of the Czech Republic's borders. Asylum seekers normally are accommodated in one of four refugee reception centers for the duration of the asylum procedure. Newcomers live separately from other asylum seekers under somewhat more restrictive conditions until they have completed a medical exam and have had their first status determination interview. This "quarantine period" lasts about 21 days, after which they move to the main section of the reception center. Reception center residents receive food, accommodation, and pocket money. All asylum seekers over the age of 15 are required to obtain a pass from the camp authorities in order to leave the refugee reception center. Asylum seekers may live outside of reception centers if they can show that their food and lodging will be provided privately. The Directorate of Aliens and Border Police Services is required to issue a first-instance decision within 90 days of an application's submission. Applications deemed "manifestly unfounded" may be denied in an accelerated procedure, according to an amendment to the Refugee Act, effective since January 1, 1994. In addition to persons who meet the Refugee Convention definition of a refugee, applicants may receive refugee status for humanitarian reasons, such as family reunification or health conditions that cannot be treated in the country of origin. Persons granted refugee status automatically receive permanent resident status (law no. 150/1996), permission to work, integration assistance, and housing for up to one year in one of ten integration centers. Since 1993, the Czech Republic has granted refugee status to persons in 513 cases. Persons denied asylum may appeal to the Department for Refugees in the Czech Ministry of the Interior within 15 days of being issued the negative decision. Second-instance decisions take about 290 days on average, according to the department. Denials in the second instance may be appealed to the Czech High Court. However, following a denial in the second-instance, an applicant falls under the Law on Foreigners and must apply for a permit to remain in the Czech Republic pending a decision by the Court. Readmission Agreements The Czech Republic signed readmission agreements with Canada and Slovakia during 1996, although it was unclear whether either had entered into force at the end of the year. In addition, the Czech Republic has concluded and implements readmission agreements with Austria, Germany, Hungary, Poland, and Romania. These agreements do not specifically take into account the situation of asylum seekers and therefore provide no guarantees of access to an asylum determination procedure. Instead, they apply generally to the return of nationals of the contracting states or third-country nationals who entered the territory of a contracting state illegally. In August 1996, UNHCR recommended against the return of asylum seekers to the Czech Republic on the basis of "safe third country" rules in the absence of assurances of access to the asylum procedure. UNHCR said, "In addition to informing the Czech authorities that the concerned persons are asylum seekers being returned as a result of the application of the safe third country notion, returning countries should also inform the claimant of his right to claim asylum in the Czech Republic and of his obligation to express his intention at the time of entry." Former Yugoslavs Although temporary protection for non-Bosnians from the former Yugoslavia expired on December 31, 1996, the Czech government agreed to permit Bosnians to remain in the Czech Republic at least until the end of September 1997. Some 372 Bosnians voluntarily repatriated during 1996, the overwhelming majority to Bosnian Federation territory. Prior to the returns, the Czech Department for Refugees and UNHCR officials from Prague made site visits to Bosnia to investigate safety conditions. In addition, the Bosnian municipal authorities had confirmed that accommodation would be available for the returnees. About 177 Bosnian Muslims originating from Serb-held areas had registered for voluntary repatriation to Federation territory at year's end, but a lack of housing delayed their return. The Czech government has pledged to fund the construction of housing for these refugees in Sanski Most and (tentatively) Tesanj, both towns within the Federation. At the end of 1996, some 718 former Yugoslavs remained registered with the Czech authorities. The Czech government has convened a committee to consider vulnerable cases of former Yugoslavs who might not otherwise meet the criteria for refugee status or permanent residence. Roma (Gypsies) During 1996, a variety of international and national human rights organizations including UNHCR, the Council of Europe, and Human Rights Watch continued to express strong concern that the 1992 Citizenship Law has led to statelessness, principally for persons in the Romani minority considered "Slovaks" at the time the Czech and Slovak Republics separated. The law accords citizenship to those either noted as "Czech" under a 1969 law promulgated by the then-communist government or to Slovaks who can demonstrate that their permanent residence has been in the Czech Republic for at least two years. On April 26, 1996, the Czech parliament amended the law, giving the Ministry of the Interior the power to waive the additional requirement that applicants for citizenship have no record of criminal wrong-doing for at least five years. In a June 1996 report on the situation of the Roma minority in the Czech Republic, Human Rights Watch welcomed this step, but also noted that the amendment failed to eliminate all of the discriminatory aspects of the law. Human Rights Watch questioned whether the Ministry of the Interior "that, at times, applied the law in a discriminatory manner, will now actively work to rectify the problems." UNHCR reported in June 1996 that it was beginning a project to assist persons encountering difficulty in obtaining Czech citizenship. Estimates on the number of persons adversely affected by the Citizenship Law range widely. In June 1996, Human Rights Watch reported that NGO estimates on the number of former Czechoslovak citizens with genuine links to the Czech Republic who have not obtained Czech citizenship ranged between 10,000 and 25,000. The Tolerance Foundation, a Prague-based human rights organization, reported in 1995 that the Czech law may leave as many as 100,000 Roma stateless. On December 20, a minister of the Czech embassy in Washington, D.C. wrote to criticize USCR's country report on the Czech Republic published in World Refuge Survey 1996. USCR's country report specifically cited the Tolerance Foundation figure of 100,000 Roma who may become stateless. The minister told USCR that he had yet to see "a single documented case of a Slovak citizen resident on the territory of the Czech Republic before 31 December 1992 who applied for, and was denied, Czech citizenship, whether he or she was Roma or not.... The information about 100,000 Romas who may become stateless' is, of course, totally unfounded," the minister said. In a December 24, 1996 letter responding to the Czech embassy criticism, USCR pointed out that UNHCR and other humanitarian organizations had also cited the Toleration Foundation's figures on potential Roma statelessness. "The fact that UNHCR not only cited the concern about the potential status of the 100,000 Roma but acted on it by intervening with the consular department of the Czech Ministry of Foreign Affairs, assured [USCR] that the concern was credible," USCR told the Czech Embassy. USCR also noted the contradiction between the Czech minister's assertion concerning the alleged lack of documented evidence on Roma statelessness and published reports that pointed to the contrary. Earlier in 1996, a team of legal experts from the Council of Europe, charged with the task of investigating the Czech citizenship law, also rejected complaints from the Czech government concerning NGO estimates. "It is not credible to invoke that NGOs or others are speculating in figures when the responsible authorities, having all the necessary information, do not clarify the situation," the Council of Europe's representatives said.