"Bridge for Human Rights" launches petition to change law on foreigners

At the beginning of the year, the civic organisation Bridge for Human Rights held a general meeting to discuss the situation of foreigners living in the Czech Republic. It soon came to the conclusion that many foreigners, especially from countries to the east of the Czech Republic, often find themselves in a paradoxical situation as they are forced to work illegally in order to meet the requirements to obtain long-term residence permits. Dita Asiedu reports:

The Bridge for Human Rights organisation has launched a petition to change the current law regulating the residence of foreigners in the country. The organisation's Jana Sobotkova explains why:

"There are two basic points which should be changed as soon as possible. First, every foreigner who wants to stay here for more than 90 days has to certify that he has the material means for a long term stay in the Czech Republic. This is thirty seven times the minimum living cost as defined by Czech law for each family member if a foreigner wants to stay here for one year. This means that a family with four or five members has to have several hundred thousand Czech crowns. Try to ask any Czech citizen whether he has half a million. The second problem is if you're asking for a permanent stay, you have to have lived here for at least ten years. You can't get it earlier, even if you work hard."

According to Mrs Sobotkova, the law makes it difficult for honest workers with a low standard of living to seek a better life in the Czech Republic:

"The people who are rich can manage it but not all people are rich so they have to borrow the money from richer compatriots. But then, they depend on these people who lend them money. They must work for them and sometimes it's not very legal. They cannot choose, as they must pay back the money they borrowed with varied costs. This can end in a vicious circle of borrowing money and people can have problems with organised crime. Many people from China, Vietnam, and Ukraine aren't very rich so they can get into a situation like this one."

According to human rights activists, Czech senators and deputies have been turning a blind eye to the problem. Some Czechs, however, do care about the issue, despite the fact that it doesn't concern them directly. Within one month, over two hundred people - including respected human rights defenders such as Jirina Siklova and Petr Uhl - signed the petition. It furthermore has the support of NGOs such as Amnesty International and Slovo 21. However, in order for it to be considered by parliament, it will have to be supported by thousands, a goal that the country's human rights organisations believe they will meet.