New amendment proposes stiff penalties for "helping" illegal aliens

At the end of March, Czech Parliament will discuss a new amendment to the law concerning illegal foreign residents in this country. If the bill is approved, helping unregistered foreigners would be considered a criminal offence in the future, which could have far-reaching implications for people who may come into contact with illegal aliens in a professional capacity, such as doctors and lawyers.

If the proposed legislation is passed, anyone who helps a foreigner who is not legally entitled to stay in the Czech Republic could be put in jail for up to one year. The law is worded in such a way that it could also apply to lawyers, humanitarian aid workers, and doctors who assist illegal aliens while carrying out their work. The amendment is thus inconsistent with many other laws, such as the right to medical care. I spoke with Pavel Cizinsky from the Counselling Centre for Citizenship, Civil and Human Rights about the possible effects this amendment would have on the work of humanitarian organizations and other NGOs.

"Well, the formulation 'assistance to undocumented migrants for financial gain' does not necessarily have to be - but can be - dangerous. It depends on the police. Most organizations are, for example, funded by some sponsor, usually the EU or the state, and this money can be considered as 'financial gain'. Also, most organizations providing shelter for homeless people charge some symbolic price, and this could be seen as 'financial gain', too. So, it will depend on the police, how seriously they take the new formulation."

Do you think that the attitude of Czech society towards illegal foreigners would become generally more negative, because people would be afraid of being punished for helping them?

The exact number of illegal migrants in the Czech Republic is not known. But some estimates place the figure as high as several hundred thousand people. This means it is highly likely that situations will arise which require Czech citizens to provide professional aid to illegal migrants. Czech parliament is scheduled to discuss the amendment at the end of the month.