Last Updated: Wednesday, 26 November 2014, 15:45 GMT

U.S. Committee for Refugees World Refugee Survey 1999 - Czech Republic

Publisher United States Committee for Refugees and Immigrants
Publication Date 1 January 1999
Cite as United States Committee for Refugees and Immigrants, U.S. Committee for Refugees World Refugee Survey 1999 - Czech Republic , 1 January 1999, available at: http://www.refworld.org/docid/3ae6a8cc20.html [accessed 27 November 2014]
DisclaimerThis is not a UNHCR publication. UNHCR is not responsible for, nor does it necessarily endorse, its content. Any views expressed are solely those of the author or publisher and do not necessarily reflect those of UNHCR, the United Nations or its Member States.

At the end of 1998, the Czech Republic hosted about 2,400 refugees and asylum seekers in need of protection, according to the Czech government and UNHCR. These included 76 refugees granted asylum during the year, about 1,600 asylum seekers pending a decision at year's end, and more than 700 asylum seekers from Yugoslavia (almost exclusively Kosovars) who arrived in the Czech Republic during 1998. Most of the Kosovar asylum claims remained on hold during the year pending developments in Kosovo.

Some 4,086 asylum seekers filed applications in the Czech Republic during 1998, almost double the number of asylum seekers who applied in 1997. The largest number of claimants were from Afghanistan (1,265) and Yugoslavia (714). Significant numbers of asylum seekers also came from Sri Lanka (368), Iraq (308), and India (299) during the year.

Of the 76 applicants approved during 1998, the largest number were from Afghanistan, followed by Congo-Kinshasa, Azerbaijan, Belarus, and Iraq. Continuing a trend of several years, about 45 percent of asylum seekers reportedly abandoned their asylum applications in 1998 before receiving a decision, traveling to countries farther west.

Czech authorities arrested some 45,000 undocumented foreigners attempting to cross the Czech Republic's borders in 1998, almost 50 percent more than in 1997. The largest number, some 16,000, came from the successor states of the former Yugoslavia. In October, Czech authorities announced that police would escort persons requesting asylum at the border to refugee reception centers to prevent them from disappearing and traveling on to Western Europe. At the end of 1998, the Czech army reportedly began to deploy along the Czech Republic's border with Slovakia to stave off the flow of undocumented foreigners crossing the border.

Yugoslav nationals need visas to enter the Czech Republic. In October, the Czech government announced that it was considering imposing visa restrictions on nationals of the successor states of the Soviet Union to align the Czech Republic's visa policy with that of the European Union (EU).

Asylum Procedure

The Czech government began to draft new asylum and aliens laws during 1998. Designed to conform Czech laws with EU standards to pave the way for EU membership, both are much more strict than current law. The draft asylum law contained "safe third country" and "safe country of origin" provisions, similar to those of many EU countries. Because the Czech parliament did not pass any asylum legislation by year's end, however, 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), continued to govern the Czech asylum procedure in 1998.

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, 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 Vyshni Lhoty, a refugee reception center near the Slovak border, 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. These problems reportedly continued in 1998.

Because of the sharp increase in persons applying for asylum in the Czech Republic in 1998, the Czech government opened several new refugee centers for asylum seekers, one exclusively for Kosovars. Newcomers must first report to the reception center at Vyshni Lhoty, where they remain 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 normally move to one of the refugee centers, where they live for the duration of the asylum procedure.

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.

In October 1998, responsibility for issuing first- instance asylum decisions passed from the Directorate of Aliens and Border Police Services to the Ministry of Interior's Department for Refugees, the government office previously responsible for deciding asylum appeals. Under Czech law, asylum seekers are to receive a first- instance decision within 90 days of submitting their applications. Persons granted refugee status receive oneyear 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.

When the Department for Refugees assumed responsibility for decision making in the normal asylum procedure, it ceded its authority to issue decisions on appeals to two appeals committees that are to operate under the auspices of the Ministry of the Interior. Each committee will include seven members – one person from each of the interior, justice, and foreign affairs ministries, two from the Czech Helsinki Committee, one from the Czech Bar Association, and one academic. The appeals committees had yet to be established at year's end, however. In the interim, the Czech interior minister has the authority to issue appeals decisions.

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.

Readmission Agreements

The Czech Republic has signed and implements readmission agreements with Austria, Germany Hungary, Poland, Romania, the Slovak Republic, and Canada. In 1998, France signed readmission agreements with Bulgaria and Slovenia, the agreement with Bulgaria becoming effective in November. The readmission agreement with Slovenia and another negotiated with France in 1997 did not enter into force in 1998.

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.

Roma (Gypsies)

In 1998, the Czech Republic's Roma minority continued to face discrimination in employment, education, housing, and in other aspects of everyday life. They were also often the targets of racially motivated violence. On a positive note, in March, the Czech government repealed a 1958 law forbidding nomadic lifestyles. An Interministerial Commission for Romani Affairs, created to analyze government measures to improve the situation of Czech Roma, also began operations at the beginning of 1998.

Despite these steps, local Czech officials continued to discriminate against Roma. In one highly publicized example, the city of Usti Nad Labem announced plans in May to construct a 15-foot high "noise and hygiene barrier" to separate the "problematic [Roma] community" from other "decent people." The plan called for 24-hour police surveillance of the fenced-off area. Although domestic and international pressure forced the city to delay construction, city officials had not announced their intention to abandon the plan at year's end.

Although some 600 Czech Roma denied asylum abroad repatriated in 1998, other Romani families emigrated from the Czech Republic during the year. More than 1,700 Czech Roma applied for asylum in Canada and the United Kingdom in 1997.

Citizenship for Roma remained a contentious issue in 1998. In recent years, international and national human rights organizations including UNHCR, the Council of Europe, and Human Rights Watch 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. The law accords citizenship either to those noted as "Czech" under a 1969 law of the then communist government or to Slovaks who can demonstrate their residence in the Czech Republic for at least two years.

In April 1996, the Czech parliament amended the law, authorizing the Ministry of the Interior to waive the requirement that applicants for citizenship have no criminal record for at least five years. By the end of 1998, the Ministry of the Interior had waived the clean-criminal record requirement in 3,956 cases, 1,368 in 1998. Authorities had rejected or discontinued 468 citizenship petitions at year's end. Thousands more applicants reportedly awaited decisions on their citizenship applications. NGOs assisting Roma petitioners for citizenship reported cases in which local authorities had informed employers, schools, and social service offices that certain individuals had applied for – and therefore did not yet have – citizenship in order to deny them benefits and services. In some cases, local authorities also reportedly notified the police that petitioners for citizenship could be deported.

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