Last Updated: Thursday, 24 April 2014, 11:39 GMT

U.S. Committee for Refugees World Refugee Survey 2001 - Czech Republic

Publisher United States Committee for Refugees and Immigrants
Publication Date 20 June 2001
Cite as United States Committee for Refugees and Immigrants, U.S. Committee for Refugees World Refugee Survey 2001 - Czech Republic , 20 June 2001, available at: http://www.refworld.org/docid/3b31e1618.html [accessed 25 April 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 2000, the Czech Republic hosted about 4,800 refugees and asylum seekers in need of protection. These included 133 refugees granted asylum during the year and 4,625 asylum seekers awaiting a decision at year's end.

Some 8,787 asylum seekers filed applications in the Czech Republic during 2000, up 22 percent from 7,219 applicants in 1999. The largest number of claimants were from Ukraine (1,142), followed by Afghanistan (1,121), Moldova (781), Slovakia (723), Russia (627), India (646), and Vietnam (586).

Of the 133 applicants granted asylum in 2000, the majority were from Belarus (24), followed by Afghanistan (22) and Armenia (16). Continuing a trend of several years, 4,509 asylum seekers reportedly abandoned their asylum applications in 2000, apparently traveling to countries farther west. Abandoned cases included initial applications and appeals.

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 2000, some 27,596 migrants left the Czech Republic illegally, while 5,134 entered illegally. The European Union (EU) has exerted pressure on the Czech authorities to control its eastern border.

Asylum Procedure

The Czech Republic is a signatory to the UN Refugee Convention. On January 1, 2000, a new refugee act came into effect in the Czech Republic designed to conform Czech laws with EU standards, in part to pave the way for Czech membership in the EU. Under the new act, asylum seekers apply for refugee status with passport control officials when entering the Czech Republic and must promptly report to a designated refugee reception center. However, persons who do not comply may also apply to 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.

The Ministry of Interior's Department for Refugees is responsible for issuing first-instance asylum decisions on asylum claims within 90 days of submitting their applications. The refugee act stipulates that the Czech authorities should make every effort to have female officials interview female asylum seekers.

The new 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 ground for leaving their country. Appellants whose claims are rejected as manifestly unfounded have seven days to appeal. During 2000, the Czech Republic deemed some 417 asylum seekers' claims to be manifestly unfounded, 177 of which were from Slovakia. Under the new law, the Czech Republic cannot place asylum seekers under age 18 in the accelerated procedure. The Department for Refugees may refuse status to applicants who arrive in Slovakia from "safe countries of origin" or "safe third countries" where they can be returned.

Under the new law, in addition to granting refugee status 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, UNHCR says that de facto the status is granted to the elderly or people with medical problems that can't be provided for in the country of origin. 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.

Persons granted refugee status 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.

Two appeal commissions decide asylum appeals. Each commission 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 commission 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.

Assistance/Accommodations

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 and are unconfined.

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 them legal counseling, clothing, Czech language training, and recreational activities.

In 2000, the Cerveny Ujezd refugee center, accommodating some 420 asylum seekers in the north of the country, received widespread press reports. In March, 25 Chechen asylum seekers from the center occupied UNHCR's offices in Prague for three days to protest harassment from Russian-speaking residents. Other asylum seekers complained to the Czech press of poor hygiene conditions and intimidation by center officials. In July, residents protested quarantine conditions imposed by camp leaders to prevent the spread of hepatitis. By August, the protests culminated in violent altercations with police, and some asylum seekers were injured. One hundred asylum seekers then wrote letters of complaint to the interior minister alleging poor hygiene standards and human rights violations in the center.

Aliens Law

On January 1, a new aliens law took effect tightening visa requirements for many foreign nationals as part of Czech efforts to combat illegal migration and organized crime. The legislation required 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 law also introduced temporary protection into the Czech asylum procedure and allows the Czech Republic to issue "toleration status" to individuals unable to be returned to their countries because of Article Three of the European Council of Human Rights, which prohibits torture.

Human rights organizations including the Czech Helsinki Committee criticized the "unreasonable" demands the new law placed on asylum applicants by forcing them to apply for visas in their home country. In July, the Czech Parliament approved amendments to the law that relaxed some of the restrictions. However, critics of the law argued that the changes failed to address several key concerns.

(The Czech Parliament passed the draft amendments to the aliens law in January 2001.)

Restrictive Measures

The Czech Republic continued to detain and deport undocumented migrants entering via its borders in 2000.

In May, in an attempt to deter migrants from entering the Czech Republic from Slovakia, the government reportedly stationed special police squads equipped with night-vision equipment in South Moravia. According to the government, in the first nine months of the year, more than 25,000 persons were apprehended trying to cross a Czech border illegally.

In May, the Czech Republic introduced transit visa requirements for citizens of Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Congo-Kinshasa, Eritrea, Ethiopia, Ghana, Iran, Iraq, Nigeria, Pakistan, Somalia, Sri Lanka, and Syria.

The Czech Republic has signed and implements readmission agreements with Austria, Canada, Germany, Hungary, Poland, Romania, and the Slovak Republic. 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. During the year, the Czech Republic readmitted 103 asylum seekers from Austria, 1,174 from Germany, 30 from Poland, and 11 from Slovakia.

However, during the year, Caritas and UNHCR implemented a border-monitoring project that improved access to asylum in the Czech Republic for asylum seekers who arrived at the border or were returned under readmission agreements.

Roma

In 1999, the government adopted Resolution 279, a program to improve inter-ethnic relations and decrease Roma unemployment. In June, the Interministerial Commission on Romani Affairs submitted proposals to the Czech government for the integration of Roma in Czech society. These measures to increase the security of Roma; eliminate discrimination in education and by social class; improve Romas' social position; and support Romany culture and language.

Despite this positive step, hate crimes and violence against the Roma increased during the year as the police and legal authorities continued to carry out incompetent and protracted investigations and give lenient sentences for perpetrators.

Although few Roma receive asylum in Western Europe, more than 2,000 Roma left the Czech Republic in 2000 to seek asylum in other European countries. During the year, more than 1,230 Czech Roma families applied for asylum in the United Kingdom. In November, the Czech government agreed to allow the United Kingdom to post airline liaison officers (quasi-immigration officers) at Prague Airport. In return, the United Kingdom did not impose entry visas for Czech nationals during the year.

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