The number of asylum seekers in the Czech Republic has doubled since 2000

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The Czech Republic's location, in the heart of Europe, has for many years made it a transit route for east-west human migration. But in the last year the number of asylum-seekers in the Czech Republic has doubled. Over 18,000 people applied for asylum in 2001 which was the highest number in the last decade. Radio Prague spoke to Christian Popescu from an organisation called Society for Citizens Assisting Emigrants. He explains that it is legislation that causes migrants to attempt to claim asylum in order to be able to stay in the country. By Nicole Klement and Alena Skodova.

"In 1999 a very tough law on foreigners was approved, and because of this law many foreigners living and working illegally in the Czech Republic used the new asylum law to legalise their stay in the country. While the law on foreigners is very tight, the law on asylum valid in 2000 and 2001 was too generous - people were allowed to stay privately and work without a work permit. So in fact the asylum law opened the asylum way to legalise the stay instead of having the law on foreigners."

Because of strict foreigner laws many people who, in the past, wanted to stay - claimed asylum. But where are these people from?

"It's mainly people from Ukraine, Moldova, Romania - so people from the former Soviet Union and people from the Balkans, but they used to work here illegally anyway."

This January a new asylum law came into effect. Is the number of asylum seekers expected to drop?

"Now, for 2002 there is a new law, which is very tight, so this way of misusing the asylum law has been made impossible. For instance the asylum seekers were allowed to repeat their applications several times. So they came to the reception centre, stayed there for three weeks or a month, lived and worked here privately, and the asylum procedure was going on. When they realised there was no chance - the first instance gave them a negative answer, the second instance gave them a negative answer, they could still make an appeal to the High Court. So it might have taken another year or two. Then they went again to the reception centre, and again asked for application. Now this is impossible. When the first application is rejected, they are allowed to send another one in two years' time. So it is impossible to continue to stay and work illegally in the Czech Republic, while being in the asylum procedure."

That was Christian Popescu from the Society for Citizens Assisting Emigrants here in the Czech Republic.

authors: Nicole Klement , Alena Škodová
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