U.S. Committee for Refugees World Refugee Survey 2000 - Czech Republic
|Publisher||United States Committee for Refugees and Immigrants|
|Publication Date||1 June 2000|
|Cite as||United States Committee for Refugees and Immigrants, U.S. Committee for Refugees World Refugee Survey 2000 - Czech Republic , 1 June 2000, available at: http://www.refworld.org/docid/3ae6a8d113.html [accessed 11 March 2014]|
|Disclaimer||This 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 1999, the Czech Republic hosted about 1,820 refugees and asylum seekers in need of protection. These included 80 refugees granted asylum during the year, about 60 rejected Yugoslav asylum seekers still in need of protection, and 1,683 asylum seekers awaiting a decision at year's end.
Some 7,219 asylum seekers filed applications in the Czech Republic during 1999, up 75 percent from 4,086 applicants in 1998. The largest number of claimants were from Afghanistan (2,312), Sri Lanka (900), India (887), and Yugoslavia (622).
Of the 80 applicants approved in 1999, the largest number were from Afghanistan (20), followed by Belarus (11), and Yugoslavia (9). Continuing a trend of several years, 7,159 asylum seekers reportedly abandoned their asylum applications in 1999, apparently traveling to countries farther west.
In recent years, the Czech Republic has seen a huge increase in the number of migrants transiting through the country attempting to reach Western Europe. During the first three months of 1999, Czech border guards arrested some 7,800 persons attempting to cross the border illegally. The European Union (EU) has exerted pressure on the Czech authorities to control its eastern border.
The Czech government passed a new asylum law and a new aliens law during 1999. The asylum law was designed to conform Czech laws with European Union (EU) standards in part to pave the way for Czech membership in the EU. Because the new asylum law did not take effect until January 1, 2000, the Refugee Act enacted by the former Czech and Slovak Federal Republic (CSFR) in 1990, with its 1993 and 1996 amendments, continued to govern the Czech asylum procedure in 1999.
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 may also apply with the Aliens Police once in the country if they give "objective reasons" for their delay. According to the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), most persons who ask for asylum from inside the country are admitted to the procedure. Czech authorities refer them to the Vyshni Lhoty 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 1999, UNHCR expressed concern that language barriers prevented some asylum seekers from requesting information about asylum or articulating an asylum request.
Following dramatic increases in the number of asylum seekers in recent years, the Czech government opened several new refugee centers for asylum seekers. 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 asylum 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, basic medical care, and pocket money. Asylum seekers may live outside the reception centers if they can show that they have private access to food and lodging. Nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) provide them legal counseling, clothing, Czech language training, and recreational activities.
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 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. Following a 1999 law change, the naturalization procedure no longer requires recognized refugees to renounce their prior 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, which began work in 1999. Each committee includes seven members one person each from the interior, justice, and foreign affairs ministries, two from the Czech Helsinki Committee, one from the Czech Bar Association, and one academic. In cases where the secretariat of the appeals committee and the appeals commissioners disagree, the Minister of the Interior issues the final decision. Applicants in the appeals stage fall under the Law on Foreigners and must apply for a permit to remain in the Czech Republic pending a decision.
New Asylum Law
The new asylum law adopted by the parliament in November brings Czech asylum policy in line with EU standards.
The new legislation creates an accelerated procedure for "manifestly unfounded" applications. Claims deemed manifestly unfounded include those in which the applicants provide false information, file repeat applications, or state economic reasons as their ground for leaving their country. The asylum law also contains "safe third country" and "safe country of origin" provisions, similar to those of many EU countries. Under the new law, the Czech Republic cannot place asylum seekers under age 18 in the accelerated procedure.
The new law introduces a humanitarian status for asylum seekers who do not meet the asylum grounds enumerated in the refugee definition. In addition, the new law explicitly includes nonstate persecution as a ground for receiving refugee status. Applicants with sur place refugee claims also do not lose their current residence status.
The new law introduces some notable changes from previous practice. Under the new law, applicants residing in government-run facilities will enjoy full freedom of movement, and may have legal counsel subsidized by the government. The law stipulates that the Czech authorities should make every effort to have female officials interview female asylum seekers. In addition, recognized refugees may apply for immediate family members to join them in the Czech Republic under the law's family reunification procedure. The new asylum law took effect on January 1, 2000.
New Aliens Law
The new aliens law which parliament passed in November tightens visa requirements for many foreign nationals. The law is part of Czech efforts to combat illegal migration and organized crime. The legislation requires nationals of Asian, African, Middle Eastern, and certain former Soviet countries to provide proof of health insurance and sufficient financial resources for the duration of their stay in the Czech Republic before permitting entry.
The new aliens law introduces temporary protection into the Czech asylum procedure. The legislation also allows the Czech Republic to issue "toleration status" to individuals unable to be returned to their countries under Article Three of the European Council of Human Rights, which prohibits torture. The new law took effect on January 1, 2000.
(Because of several problems in implementing the new aliens law, the Czech Prime Minister announced plans in March 2000 to amend it.)
The Czech Republic has signed and implements readmission agreements with Austria, Canada, Germany, Hungary, Poland, Romania, and the Slovak Republic. The Czech Republic has negotiated readmission agreements with France and Slovenia, although they had not taken effect by year's end.
Because these agreements do not take into account the situation of asylum seekers, they provide no guaranteed access to an asylum determination. Instead, they focus on returning nationals of the contracting states or third-country nationals who entered a contracting state illegally.
In 1999, the Czech Republic's Roma minority continued to face discrimination in employment, housing, and other aspects of everyday life. They were also often the targets of racially motivated violence.
In recent years, international and national human rights organizations including UNHCR, the Council of Europe, and Human Rights Watch criticized the 1992 Czech Citizenship Law, which led to statelessness for some residents in the Czech Republic, principally persons in the Roma minority considered "Slovaks" at the time the Czech and Slovak Republics separated. In July 1999, the parliament passed an amendment to the Czech citizenship law allowing Roma who were permanent residents in the Czech Republic at the time of the countries' division to become citizens, thereby allowing them to receive the social rights and benefits of citizenship. The Czech and Slovak Republics also agreed to permit dual citizenship for some of their nationals during 1999.
In 1999, the government also adopted Resolution 279, a program to improve inter-ethnic relations and decrease Roma unemployment. An Interministerial Commission of Romani Affairs, created to analyze government measures to improve the situation of Czech Roma, began operations in 1998. Throughout 1999, the Commission took an increasingly active role in resolving disputes between the Roma and other Czech citizens. The Commission also worked to recruit and train Roma for law enforcement.
Despite these steps, local Czech officials continued to discriminate against the Roma. In one highly publicized example, the city of Usti Nad Labem constructed a 6 feet high, 200 feet long "noise and hygiene barrier" to separate the "problematic [Roma] community" from other "decent people" in October. Domestic and international pressure eventually forced the city to take down the wall in November, and the Czech federal authorities gave the municipality $286,000 (10,500,000 Czech Crowns) to improve social conditions in the city. The city council announced that one third of the money would be used to buy the houses of non-Roma living next to the wall site.
Although few Roma receive asylum in Western Europe, a record number, between 6,000 and 7,000, left the Czech Republic in 1999 to seek asylum abroad. During the year, more than 1,790 Czech Roma families applied for asylum in the United Kingdom, prompting British Prime Minister Tony Blair to write Czech Prime Minister Milos Zeman asking him to work to stem the flow of Roma asylum seekers out of the Republic. Blair warned that the British government might impose a visa requirement for Czech citizens.
In December, UNHCR updated guidelines relating to the eligibility of Czech Roma asylum seekers in asylum procedures. UNHCR noted widespread popular discrimination, which may amount to persecution, based on criteria outlined in the UNHCR Handbook on Determining Refugee Status. In claims where persecution can be determined, UNHCR argued that asylum states must assess the ability of the Czech authorities to offer adequate protection. While the guidelines did not suggest that the Czech Roma generally are in need of protection, they did indicate a need to assess Czech Roma asylum applications individually.
During 1999, 1,613 Kosovo Albanians arrived in the Czech Republic. Under the humanitarian evacuation program (HEP), the Czech Republic airlifted 822 persons out of Macedonia; another 598 spontaneously arrived in the Czech Republic and applied for asylum.
Though the government granted temporary protection to Kosovo Albanians, they were also permitted to apply for asylum in the normal procedure. The authorities opened seven humanitarian centers to house the Kosovo refugees. By year's end, 904 Kosovo Albanians had repatriated. The Czech government gave repatriation grants of $500 (1,000 German marks) to returning Kosovars.