Growing number of asylum seekers prompt change of legislation

The growing number of Roma leaving the Czech Republic in search of a better life in Great Britain is a serious problem for the Czech authorities, but it is not the only problem related to migration. In the shadow of the highly publicized Czech-British talks, the interior ministry is ringing alarm bells regarding the growing number of asylum seekers in the Czech Republic itself. Daniela Lazarova has the story:

According to interior ministry statistics, the number of asylum seekers in the Czech Republic has reached an all time high. Over 10,000 applications filed in the first seven months of this year have already topped last year's overall figure, putting the Czech Republic in eighth place on the ladder of European asylum destinations. One in four asylum seekers come from the Ukraine, the single biggest group of asylum seekers, but there is also an increasing number of Moldavians, Romanians, Georgians and Armenians as well as Indian and Vietnamese nationals.

Although Czech asylum criteria are strict and few applicants are actually granted asylum status, the processing of applications is complicated and lengthy, which allows asylum seekers to get a good foothold in the country. While they wait to have their applications processed, the Czech Republic pays for their accommodation, food, medical bills and provides them with a symbolic monthly allowance. They are free to leave the asylum centres and are allowed to work and find accommodation elsewhere. By the time the authorities have ruled on their case, many are already employed and ready to ask for a long term residence permit. Others have made plans to move on to greener pastures in Germany. Many apply for asylum several times over, or pay Czechs to marry them. In other words thousands of economic migrants use the asylum process as a form of legalizing their presence in the Czech Republic.

In an effort to curb this practice the interior ministry has drafted an amendment to the country's asylum law. If approved it would significantly speed up the processing of applications and in cases of obvious economic migration even allow immigration officers to turn applicants away from the country's borders and international airports. Some have welcomed it as the only possible solution to the problem, others fear that it will only fuel illegal migration and leave more people at the mercy of well orchestrated smugglers' rings. Only a few months ago eighteen Indian nationals drowned in the Morava river in an attempt to cross illegally into the Czech Republic.