Asylum seekers disappear without a trace

Czech police are still searching for over seventy of some ninety asylum seekers who have disappeared from two holding centres. The Egyptian nationals escaped on Friday night but the Interior Ministry only made the news public on Monday.

The men seized the opportunities when construction work required surveillance cameras to be switched off in the Vysni Lhoty centre in North Moravia, and when there was a lapse in security at the Velke Prilepy centre close to Prague. The ministry believes they escaped with the help of an organised people smuggling gang and are most probably heading for the West. But as Tomas Haisman, the director of the Interior Ministry's migration policy department told Czech Radio, the refugees could not have been held in the centres by force anyway:

"This was clearly an organisational error and we will have to pay more attention to the activities of the individuals involved in the asylum system. On the other hand I have to point out that no-one - no civilian security agent, no worker from the refugee centres, and not even the police have the legal right to hinder an asylum seeker if he chooses to leave."

Some refugees who come to the Czech Republic are first taken to what are called reception centres. The refugees are held in isolation as their identity is verified and they undergo medical check-ups. Escape is listed as a minor offence under the country's asylum law and is punished with a fine.

"According to Czech law there is no way and no chance to be granted asylum because of economic reasons. I think the Egyptian refugees didn't know exactly the conditions in the Czech Republic. I think their intention was firstly to get to Europe and the Czech Republic was the way used to get here. I tried a few times to explain their situation to them but sometimes it was difficult because some of them were not very educated and it was difficult to explain to them this situation that is hard for people to understand."

The police have already caught 19 of the 90 escaped refugees. Even if the remaining group successfully crosses the border into the West, experts say their chances of avoiding getting caught are minimal. Police in Germany and Austria are quick to ask for identification and finger prints from anyone suspected of being an illegal migrant.