Interior Ministry announces proposals to change asylum system

Лагерь Балкова

The Czech Interior Ministry has announced plans for changes to the country's asylum system, to reflect a fall in the number of refugees arriving in the Czech Republic each year. The ministry says it plans to close some centres and rebuild others, to improve conditions for asylum-seekers. Groups representing refugees have welcomed the proposals, but complain that other changes recently introduced actually curtail the rights of asylum seekers.

Just over 2,300 asylum seekers have been placed in refugee centres in the first eight months of this year, compared to around 5,500 last year and 11,400 in 2003. The fall in asylum applications is to do with membership of the European Union. Under EU rules, refugees are required to seek asylum in the first EU country they enter. The Czech Republic is now surrounded by EU states, and has no external border with non-EU countries. So asylum seekers are being absorbed by other countries, such as Slovakia and Poland, and the numbers of asylum seekers in this country have fallen.

At the moment the Interior Ministry manages the country's network of asylum centres through a body called the Refugee Facilities Administration. However, those people caught crossing the border illegally are placed in detention centres run by the foreigners' police. All that could change. Under the new proposals, the Refugee Facilities Administration would also run the detention centres. The Interior Ministry says the Administration is better equipped to deal with illegal migrants. Jaroslav Vetrovsky, from the Organisation for Aid to Refugees, says the organisation cautiously supports those proposals.

Balkova detention centre for refugees
"I think it could be a positive change, because obviously the Refugee Facilities Administration has better accommodation and more experience in dealing with asylum-seekers than the foreigners' police. The foreigners' police is after all a branch of the police force and carries out a rather different function than providing accommodation, food and social and health care to foreigners in the Czech Republic. So I think the proposals could be quite positive, and we'll have to wait and see if they will bring about some changes for the better."

However, even though the Organisation for Aid to Refugees might support these particular proposals, they complain about changes to Czech asylum system that have already come into effect. Those changes chiefly concern asylum seekers' rights to challenge rulings denying them asylum in the Czech Republic, and also the legal status of asylum seekers once their asylum claim has been rejected. The Organisation says those changes actually curtail legal rights of asylum seekers.