United States Committee for Refugees and Immigrants, U.S. Committee for Refugees World Refugee Survey 1998 - Czech Republic, 1 January 1998, available at: http://www.refworld.org/docid/3ae6a8bb2c.html [accessed 10 December 2013]
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At the end of 1997, the Czech Republic hosted about 700 refugees and asylum seekers in need of protection, according to the Czech government and UNHCR. These included about 100 refugees granted asylum during the year and about 600 asylum seekers pending a decision at year's end. Some 2,109 asylum seekers filed applications in the Czech Republic during 1997, a slight decrease from the 2,156 asylum seekers in 1996. As in the past two years, the largest number of claimants were from Bulgaria (724) in 1997. Significant numbers of asylum seekers also came from Iraq (281), Afghanistan (268), Romania (156), and Sri Lanka (89) during the year. Of the 96 applicants approved during 1997, the largest number were from Bosnia, followed by Vietnam and Afghanistan. About 40 percent of applicants reportedly abandoned their cases in 1997 before receiving a decision, traveling to countries farther west. Asylum Procedure Despite years of discussing a new refugee law, the Czech Republic passed no significant refugee legislation in 1997. Thus, the Refugee Act (law no. 498) enacted by the former Czech and Slovak Federal Republic (CSFR) on November 16, 1990, and amendments enacted in 1993 (law no. 317) and 1996 (law no. 150), still govern the Czech asylum procedure. Under the Refugee Act, an asylum seeker should apply for refugee status with passport control officials when entering the Czech Republic and report to a designated refugee reception center. However, persons who do not comply also may apply with the Aliens Police once in the country if they give "objective reasons" for their delay. In practice, some 80 to 85 percent of applicants apply for asylum once in the country, according to the Czech Directorate of Aliens and Border Police. According to UNHCR, most persons who ask for asylum once "inland" are admitted to the procedure without scrutiny of their failure to apply at the border. Czech authorities simply refer them to Cerveny Ujezd, a refugee reception center north of Prague, where they can formally lodge their claims. However, asylum seekers arriving at the border or returned to the Czech Republic under readmission agreements face some practical obstacles. In May 1997, UNHCR expressed its concern that language barriers prevent some asylum seekers from requesting information about asylum or articulating an asylum request. UNHCR reported that some arriving foreigners, although not explicitly requesting asylum in the Czech Republic, had indicated a need for protection, but Czech authorities had not told them how to apply for asylum. Some were denied access to the asylum procedure. In 1996, USCR received reports that insufficiently documented asylum seekers without the requisite travel papers were periodically "bounced back" from the Czech Republic to Slovakia without a review on the merits of their claims to refugee status. Asylum seekers normally stay in one of four refugee centers during the asylum procedure. Newcomers must report to the reception center in Cerveny Ujezd, separated from other asylum seekers under more restrictive conditions until their medical exam and first status determination interview. After this "quarantine period," about 21 days, they move to the main section of the Cerveny Ujezd center or one of the other three refugee centers. Refugee center residents receive food, housing, and pocket money. All asylum seekers over the age of 15 must obtain a pass from the camp authorities to leave the refugee reception center. Asylum seekers may live outside of reception centers if they can show that they have private access to food and lodging. The Directorate of Aliens and Border Police Services is to issue a first-instance decision within 90 days of an application's submission. Persons granted refugee status receive one-year renewable residence permits, permission to work, integration assistance, and housing for up to one year in one of ten integration centers. After five years, refugees may apply for Czech citizenship. Persons denied asylum may appeal to the Department for Refugees in the Czech Ministry of the Interior within 15 days of the negative decision. Second-instance decisions take more than nine months, according to the Department for Refugees. Denials in the second instance may be appealed to the Czech High Administrative Court, which issues decisions only on points of law. However, an applicant denied in the second instance falls under the Law on Foreigners and must apply for a permit to remain in the Czech Republic pending the court's decision. UNHCR has expressed concern about the quality of both first- and second-instance decisions because of the high percentage of negative decisions the High Administrative Court has returned for administrative review in recent years. Many applicants whose cases the court returned were subsequently recognized as refugees. Readmission Agreements The Czech Republic has signed readmission agreements with Austria, Germany Hungary, Poland, Romania, and the Slovak Republic. Some aspects of a readmission agreement with Canada are also in force. The Czech Republic and France signed a readmission agreement in April 1997, but it is not in effect. Bulgaria and Slovenia were also reportedly negotiating readmission agreements with the Czech Republic during 1997. Because these agreements do not take into account the situation of asylum seekers, they provide no guaranteed access to an asylum determination procedure. Instead, they focus on returning nationals of the contracting states or third-country nationals who entered a contracting state illegally. In May 1997, UNHCR recommended against the return of asylum seekers to the Czech Republic on the basis of "safe third country" laws in the absence of assured access to the asylum procedure. "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," UNHCR said. Bosnians Temporary protection for Bosnians expired on September 30, 1997. During the year, 190 Bosnians returned home under an organized voluntary repatriation program. Czech-funded housing developments in Bosnia accommodated those with no homes to return to. The Czech government also funded education and health projects in Bosnia. During the year, some 115 handicapped, elderly, and sick Bosnians and their accompanying family members received permanent residence permits on humanitarian grounds. About 20 Bosnians were granted asylum, and more than a thousand others received long-term or permanent residence permits. Roma (Gypsies) More than 1,500 Czech Roma applied for asylum in Canada during 1997, most in the months following an August 7 television broadcast of a documentary in the Czech Republic that portrayed Canada as a safe and welcoming country for Roma asylum seekers. Some local government officials encouraged Roma to emigrate. The mayor of Ostrava, a town with a large Roma population, offered to pay for two-thirds of the travel costs of Roma agreeing to leave. The Canadian government responded to the Romani influx by reintroducing visa requirements for Czech nationals on October 10. Following a similar broadcast that showed a group of Roma enjoying life in Great Britain, several hundred Czech Roma departed for the United Kingdom in October and November. Some 240 Czech Roma applied for asylum in the United Kingdom during 1997. These well-publicized Romani departures drew attention to Roma's treatment in the Czech Republic. After two rejections, on October 29, the Czech government accepted a report by the government's Council on Nationalities criticizing the government's failure to improve the situation of Czech Roma. The government approved a resolution that acknowledged racism in Czech society, including racism perpetuated by state and local government officials. The resolution also committed the government to take remedial action to promote tolerance and combat discrimination against Czech Roma in education, employment, and housing. Citizenship for Roma has been a contentious issue. In recent years, international and national human rights organizations including UNHCR and the Council of Europe have criticized the 1992 Citizenship Law, which has led to statelessness, principally for persons in the Romani minority considered "Slovaks" at the time the Czech and Slovak Republics separated. Although the Czech government took steps in 1996 and 1997 to ease citizenship requirements, Human Rights Watch reported in 1997 that there were still many Roma who could not obtain citizenship.