NGOs unite against proposed law affecting foreigners seeking residency
Representatives of around thirty Czech and international NGOs gathered outside the Czech Senate on Monday, to hand over a petition to the Senate's chairman. The issue that had made them unite was a proposed change to the law which if approved, they said, would deny foreigners seeking residency in the Czech Republic some of their basic human rights. Czech MPs are currently discussing whether foreigners who marry Czechs should automatically be granted a long-term residency permit in the country - or whether this system is currently too open to abuse. This and other proposed amendments to the law have raised alarm amongst NGOs, who today took their complaints to Parliament.
"We are happy that more than 1,000 people signed the petition. We think that this is rather good considering that not many people have that much information about refugees. And also considering the rhetoric there is around which often portrays refugees and foreigners as a threat. So, we are pleased that more than 1,000 people signed the petition."
One of the proposed changes to the law causing the most controversy is to do with foreigners marrying Czech nationals. Up until now, any foreigner marrying a Czech automatically gained a long-term residency permit. Under the amendment to the law, this long-term residency permit would only be granted two years into a couple's marriage.
I asked one of the organizers of the petition, Pavel Cizinsky, what he thought the problem with this was:
On Monday, the petition that Mr. Cizinsky put into motion was handed over to the Chairman of the House of Deputies, Miloslav Vlcek, and Premysl Sobotka, the Chairman of the Senate. Mr. Sobotka told petitioners that he understood their fears, but insisted upon the need for such new legislation:
"We need this new legislation because it will put a few things right with the way we treat asylum-seekers in this country. And this petition, I think, only focuses upon the fringes, the marginal aspects of this legislation."
But Pavel Cizinsky doesn't agree. Far from being a 'marginal' issue, he sees the proposed reforms, which would affect the legal status of foreigners tying-the-knot with Czechs, as the manifestation of a new type of xenophobia amongst Czechs:
"We are a little bit afraid that nowadays, xenophobia towards immigrants is shifting away from those coming here to work, and towards those coming here to live in Czech families. Because labour migration is really needed here, everybody knows that now. And so prejudices and abuses of power are shifting towards families."
The changes to the law are still being discussed in the Czech Parliament, and will then have to pass through the Senate if they are to be approved. Whether this petition will hold any sway is yet to be seen.