Expert: high time for new migration system

It has been 16 years since the fall of Czechoslovakia's Communist regime. The Czech Republic, once a country of emigration, has now become one of transit and immigration, with the main immigration groups coming from Ukraine, Vietnam, Slovakia, and Belarus. In 2004, the latest official statistics say, around 2.5 percent of the country's population were legal immigrants. A decade earlier, it was less than half that rate. This transformation, as well as new immigration policies brought on by the country's accession to the European Union, calls for a new migration system.

Albert-Peter Rethmann
Dita Asiedu spoke to Prof. Albert-Peter Rethmann, the head of Charles University's Centre for Migration Studies; he says the Czech Republic still lacks a system that benefits all sides:

"The current situation is that migration is very often an individual decision of persons or small groups. For example workers from Ukraine look for work so that they can send money to their families at home. This is also of an advantage to the Czech Republic because we need workers in certain sectors. But this can be quite dangerous for the workers because they depend on the firms that employ them, especially when they have no legal status here. They are often abused - they do not get money, have problems getting medical care, and so on."

Are immigrants from Ukraine the biggest group abused by companies here in the Czech Republic?

"The workers from Ukraine are the main group with legal status problems."

What about the Vietnamese community? And how have immigrants been integrating into the rest of society?

"In the group of people from Vietnam, we see that the first generation only live in their own ethnic community. But the immigrants are working quite hard here and we all benefit from their work - we shop in Vietnamese stores, eat in Vietnamese restaurants, and so on. The receiving society is deciding to give a chance especially to the second generation - to the children of the immigrants. In the western part of the Czech Republic, for example, the children have very good grades in schools and that is a sign of integration."

Illustrative photo: archive of Radio Prague
Not too long ago, the Czech Republic was a transit country, meaning that people would come here in order to get to the west. Now they are planning to stay. How has this affected the country?

"It's also a good sign that we have become a target country. It means that we have reached certain stability in our economy and that the people have the impression that they can live in this community and that they are well received.

"When we discuss immigration, we have to remember that we ourselves, as Czechs, emigrated not only during the communist times but already at the beginning of the twentieth century. The mayor of Chicago in the 1930s was a former Czech. So, when we remember that we ourselves once were migrants to the USA and other western countries, we can perhaps accept that we have now become a target country for migrants."