U.S. Committee for Refugees World Refugee Survey 2002 - Czech Republic
|Publisher||United States Committee for Refugees and Immigrants|
|Publication Date||10 June 2002|
|Cite as||United States Committee for Refugees and Immigrants, U.S. Committee for Refugees World Refugee Survey 2002 - Czech Republic , 10 June 2002, available at: http://www.refworld.org/docid/3d04c1511c.html [accessed 24 April 2014]|
At the end of 2001, the Czech Republic hosted about 10,540 refugees and asylum seekers in need of protection. These included 83 refugees granted asylum during the year, about 500 persons granted "toleration" status, and 9,934 asylum seekers awaiting a decision at year's end.
More than 18,000 asylum seekers filed applications in the Czech Republic during 2001, up 106 percent from the 8,787 applicants in 2000. The largest number of claimants were from Ukraine (4,416), followed by Moldova (2,459), Vietnam (1,525), Georgia (1,290), and Armenia (1,021).
Of the 83 applicants granted asylum in 2001 (a rate of about 1 percent), the majority were from Belarus (25), followed by Iran (10) and Afghanistan (9). Additionally, 522 persons were granted "toleration" status under the Aliens Law because they were unable to leave the Czech Republic for medical or other reasons beyond their control, or because they could face danger upon their return to their country of origin.
A total of 7,030 applications were denied (first instance and appeal). The government terminated the applications of 9,559 asylum seekers during 2001, in the majority of the cases because the applicants had abandoned their claims, presumably to travel farther west.
In recent years, a large number of migrants have transited through the Czech Republic in attempts to reach Western Europe. During 2001, some 16,978 migrants were apprehended while attempting to leave the Czech Republic illegally, while 6,856 were caught entering illegally. However, these nearly 24,000 illegal migrants represented a 27 percent decline from the number apprehended in 2000. The decline in illegal migration, coupled with the doubling of asylum claims in 2001, suggests that the Czech Republic is increasingly becoming a destination for asylum seekers, rather than simply a country of transit migration.
The Czech Republic is a signatory to the UN Refugee Convention. In 2000, a new refugee act came into effect that aligned Czech laws more closely with European Union (EU) standards, in part to pave the way for Czech membership in the EU. The refugee law was amended during the year (see New Legislation below). During 2001, asylum seekers applied for refugee status with passport control officials when entering the Czech Republic, and were required to report promptly to a designated refugee reception center, at which they could formally lodge their claims.
The Ministry of Interior's Department for Refugees is responsible for issuing first-instance decisions on asylum claims, and should reach a decision within 90 days of an application's receipt. Two commissions decided asylum appeals during 2001. In cases where the secretariat of the appeals commission and the appeals commissioners disagreed, the interior minister issued the final decision. Applicants in the appeals stage fell under the Aliens Law and had to apply for a permit to remain in the Czech Republic pending a decision.
The 2000 legislation created 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 grounds for leaving their country. Those whose claims are rejected as manifestly unfounded have seven days to appeal. During 2001, the government deemed 2,813 asylum seekers' claims to be manifestly unfounded during the first-instance procedure. The Department for Refugees may refuse status to applicants who arrive in the Czech Republic from "safe countries of origin" or "safe third countries" to which they can be returned.
In addition to granting asylum under the Refugee Convention, the Department for Refugees may also grant refugee status on humanitarian grounds. While these grounds are not specified in the law, the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) says that status is generally granted to the elderly or people with medical problems who cannot be provided for in the country of origin. Nonstate persecution is explicitly included as a ground for receiving refugee status.
Persons granted asylum receive one-year renewable residence permits, permission to work, family reunion rights, integration assistance, and housing for up to one year in one of ten integration centers. After five years, refugees may apply for Czech citizenship without renouncing their prior citizenship.
In December, the Czech president signed amendments to the asylum law, scheduled to come into effect February 1, 2002. The amendments included a number of restrictive measures designed to reduce abuse of the asylum system, and also included provisions to further harmonize the Czech Republic's procedures with EU standards.
The legislation places restrictions on repeat asylum applications, requires asylum seekers applying for sur place protection to terminate their previous legal residence, and prohibits asylum seekers from working for 12 months following the submission of their claim. The law also states that asylum seekers who live outside of state-run asylum facilities are entitled only to three months of financial assistance, a restriction criticized by the Czech Helsinki Committee and UNHCR. The law expands the grounds upon which an asylum application can be rejected as "manifestly unfounded," and provides for the levying of fines against airline companies that transport improperly documented aliens into the Czech Republic. The amendments also create an accelerated airport procedure, and provide for the detention of asylum seekers in the transit area of Prague-Ruzyne Airport.
The new law also creates a new appeal body for second-instance applications, provisionally the High Court in Prague, pending a new law on the administrative judiciary system that enters into force in January 2003.
Assistance and Accommodations
New arrivals must report to the reception center at Vyshni Lhoty, where they remain separated from other asylum seekers 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, subsidized legal advice, education for children, 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 legal counseling, clothing, Czech language training, and recreational activities.
In 2000, a new Aliens Law took effect that tightened visa requirements for nationals from a number of Asian, African, Middle Eastern, and certain former Soviet countries as part of Czech efforts to combat illegal migration and organized crime.
The law also introduced temporary protection into the Czech asylum procedure and allows the Czech Republic to issue "toleration status" to individuals who cannot be returned to their countries on the basis of Article 3 of the European Convention on Human Rights, which prohibits torture. In April, the Czech government adopted a regulation that allows Russian nationals fleeing the armed conflict in Chechnya to be granted temporary protection, although according to UNHCR, no Russians had temporary protection in the Czech Republic during 2001.
In December, the Czech government refused to extradite a prominent Uzbek dissident arrested in Prague on the basis of an Interpol warrant. The dissident, who had refugee status in Norway, had been convicted one year earlier in Uzbekistan in absentia for terrorist acts, and Uzbek authorities had requested that Interpol arrest him. The dissident was taken into custody by Czech police after flying to Prague for an interview with Radio Free Europe. Both Norway and Uzbekistan requested the dissident's release and return to their territory.
(In January 2002, the dissident was released from custody after human rights groups and Czech president and former political dissident Vaclav Havel spoke out on his behalf.)
The Czech Republic continued to detain and deport undocumented migrants entering its borders in 2001. Czech police reported an increase in illegal migration from Russia and Ukraine linked to the introduction, in 2000, of a visa requirement on nationals of the former republics of the Soviet Union.
The Czech Republic has signed and implements readmission agreements with Austria, Canada, Germany, Hungary, Poland, Romania, and the Slovak Republic. Although these agreements do not explicitly guarantee access to an asylum determination, UNHCR asserts that asylum seekers have adequate access to the procedure. During the year, the Czech Republic readmitted 3,137 asylum seekers from neighboring countries.
Widespread discrimination towards Roma in employment, housing, and education continued during 2001. Roma were also the victims of hate crimes and violence.
In continued efforts to meet the criteria for accession to the EU, the Czech Republic took steps during 2001 to improve conditions for Roma. The Law on National Minorities, which strengthens the legislative framework for the protection of minorities, took effect in August. Other steps included budgetary allocations and staff increases to the Interministerial Roma Commission, which administers projects to support the Roma community, and efforts by the Ministry of Education to improve the schooling of Roma children. However, UNHCR noted that many of the policies and programs aimed at improving conditions for Roma are long-term in duration, and will take a number of years to have a measurable impact.
Although few Roma receive asylum in Western Europe, at least 800 Roma reportedly left the Czech Republic in 2001 to seek asylum in the United Kingdom. In July, the British government began instituting checks on all passengers departing the Prague Airport for the United Kingdom, ostensibly to prevent the departure of "fraudulent" asylum seekers. Despite criticism from human rights groups, the Czech government allowed the checks to be reinstated on several other occasions, reportedly to avoid the introduction of a visa requirement for all Czech nationals traveling to the United Kingdom.