Czech camps overwhelmed by Chechen Refugees

30-12-2003

Russia has emerged as one of the world's leading "exporters" of asylum seekers to the rest of Europe. There has been a steady influx of Chechens from the Russian Federation seeking refuge in the Czech Republic since last spring. According to the paper Lidove Noviny, Petr Vorlicek a spokesperson from the Czech Interior Ministry had declared a state of emergency due to an overwhelming number of refugees crossing to the Czech Republic. But, Kay Grigar spoke with a representative from the ministry, Jiri Hajek, of the asylum and migration policy section. He denies that the situation is so serious.

"The situation is not new or unknown: in effect what we are seeing is a seasonal rise in the number of refugees arriving in the Czech Republic, a situation that regularly stabilizes every February. Still, the Authority for Refugee Centres put together a plan to deal with the influx, increasing capacity for refugees accordingly. The plan outlines three degrees from minimum to maximum capacity, with the third degree still naturally meeting all hygienic norms. The third stage outlines transforming common rooms and cultural centers into bedrooms to meet increased capacity. It is important to point out that those rooms are mostly given to single men without families. At this time only one asylum centre has been raised to the third degree and that is Bela Jezova. However, even at the highest degree the centre is not completely full yet. All the other centers at normal or slightly increased levels, so the story of a major influx has been somewhat exaggerated."

A large number of Chechen refugees crossed from Poland to the Czech Republic claiming harsh conditions in Polish refugee sites. I asked Martin Rozumek, director of the Organization for Aid to Refugees, whether Czech officials had visited the refugee camps to verify the truth in these accusations.

"Czech officials were often in discussion with Polish officials. Also we as NGOs conducted a study two weeks ago and I wouldn't say it's worse in Poland than in the Czech Republic. The problem is that the Chechens in the Czech Republic are mainly transit refugees who do not want to stay in the Czech Republic. The road from Poland to Austria runs through the Czech Republic and therefore Chechens come to the Czech Republic and would like to continue their journey to other countries such as Austria, France, Belgium, etc..."

Why do you feel that Chechens do not want to reside in the Czech Republic?

"Family links play a large role in the movement of Chechens. It means that a lot of them already have relatives in other countries and they want to join them because they know that their future could be good in these countries. But on the other hand the Czech integration system and the asylum procedure is not very attractive to Chechens because only a few are recognized as refugees and those recognized have difficulty with integrating into the Czech Republic."

According to Mr. Rozumek, only 39 Chechens were granted asylum to the Czech Republic at the beginning of December this year. Most refugees move on to other countries too quickly to complete the process.

30-12-2003