Foreigners unaware that Ombudsman is there for them too


On December 8th 1999, the Czech Parliament adopted a law which established an Ombudsman or Public Defender of Rights. But while many Czechs have been making use of this service, few foreigners are aware that they too have the right to ask the ombudsman for assistance. To reach more foreigners and inform them on what the ombudsman's office has done so far, a press conference was held in Brno this week.

Every year, only a little over one hundred foreigners who feel they have been wronged or their public rights have been violated, turn to the ombudsman for help. This year, for example, only 35 cases, ranging from health care problems to tax declarations have been attended to. Filip Glotzmann is from Ombudsman Otakar Motejl's office:

"Well, the most common problem according to our statistics is administrative expulsion. This means that foreigners are expelled because of a lack of documents or visa. So, they haven't committed a crime but are forced to leave the country."

One of the most serious complaints by foreigners has been over the conditions in detention centres - places where those who come into the country without the necessary documents are held. Two years ago, a representative from the Ombudsman's office visited the country's five centres and found what she felt to be shocking conditions. Detainees were granted only one hour a day to leave their cells and could be held for a total of 180 days without any court order or judicial process. After the Ombudsman's office objected to such conditions, significant changes were introduced:

"The situation in the detention centres has improved within the last two years. We asked to have the regime in these centres improved and we can say that the visit paid off in the end. A draft bill is also being prepared for conditions in the detainee centres to be improved."

The Ombudsman's office also points out that some ministries set their own rules and regulations that often violate the law. An Indonesian student, for example, approached the Ombudsman when she was told she would have to go to the embassy in Jakarta to prolong her visa:

"There is a law which says that every foreigner can ask for a visa at any consulate or embassy in the world. But, probably because of the international situation, the foreign ministry has selected a few countries from where citizens could be dangerous to the Czech Republic and has simply asked them to request a visa from their home country."

For the first time ever, Ombudsman Otakar Motejl felt it necessary this year to call onto Parliament for help. A man from Afghanistan who has been living in the Czech Republic for twenty years and has a Czech wife and child has repeatedly been rejected citizenship. While in the case of the Afghan citizen the Ombudsman's office has yet to receive a response from the lower house, with the help of the Ombudsman, the Indonesian student was allowed to prolong her visa without going all the way to Jakarta.