Government passes new law on asylum

Refugees from Afghanistan

The past few months have seen an increasing number of cases where groups of asylum seekers are detained trying to cross the Czech border into the European Union. As a result, an amendment to the current law on asylum was passed by the lower house recently which attempts to limit the number of people abusing the country's asylum system in order to make their way to the West. The draft now needs to be approved by the Senate and the President, in order to become law. Dita Asiedu has more:

This year alone, almost 3,000 people from Ukraine, around 1,700 from Moldova and more than 1,500 from Romania have applied for asylum in the Czech Republic. With U.S. military action likely in Afghanistan, the number of asylum seekers from that country is also expected to rise. I spoke to Maria Masarikova from the Interior Ministry's Press Department:

"The statistics from January to August this year show a total of 12,309 applications for asylum. This is far above the figures for last year, which totaled 8,788. In 1999, there were 7,220 applications and if we compare these numbers to 1996, when there were 2,211 applications - you can see that there has been a large rise and that is why we've had to come up with an amendment to the current law."

According to the current law, asylum seekers are allowed to work. The new proposal will make that illegal. Under the present system applications made for economic reasons are considered; the proposal will single them out and reject almost all of them - although the process of turning to a court for an appeal is to become faster. Mrs Masarikova once more:

"The cost of one asylum seeker in the asylum centers amounts to 350 Czech crowns a day. This covers three meals a day for adults, with children getting two additional snacks. It furthermore covers the costs of running the centers - meaning salaries of staff and health care, of course."

The proposal to the law does make significant changes as far as health care is concerned. Officials say too many asylum seekers are demanding treatment from specialists. Furthermore, the ministry says asylum seekers are often granted extra treatment free of charge, which Czech citizens have to pay for.