The Czech Republic is no longer considered a transit country by illegal migrants. Statistics released by the Czech Foreign Police earlier this week, suggest that the number of people attempting to cross the borders into Germany and Austria illegally has decreased, while the number of foreigners staying in the country without residence permits is on the rise. Dita Asiedu has more:
In 2003, some 13,206 illegal migrants were caught on the borders with Germany and Austria; 535 less than the year before. This, coupled with the increasing number of foreigners living in the country on a long-term basis without residence permits, has led the foreign police to believe that migrants no longer view the country as a temporary host on their way to the West but a place that can offer them a life just as comfortable as say neighbouring Austria or Germany. The number of foreigners caught without a residence permit reached 21,350 in 2003; some 2,000 more than the year before. An overwhelming majority of the illegal residents detained were from Ukraine. Many of them had come to the Czech Republic on tourist visas, got a job without an employment permit and stayed past the authorised period. Czech immigration authorities also uncovered several hundred Belarusians, Vietnamese, Moldavians, and Russians. The rest were from China, Slovakia, Lithuania, Romania, and Bulgaria.
Some migrants may have made the Czech Republic their target destination in the hopes of gaining easy access to the West upon the country's entry to the European Union. But the head of the foreign and border police, Jindrich Urban, says it will be a few years before that will be possible. Border crossings will stay in place and passport controls will continue along the borders with Austria and Germany as the Czech Republic is yet to meet a number of conditions to be able to sign the Schengen Agreement - a treaty signed by several European states (Austria, Belgium, Denmark, France, Finland, Germany, Greece, Iceland, Italy, Luxembourg, the Netherlands, Norway, Portugal, Spain and Sweden), making it possible to travel between them without any border controls at all. Jindrich Urban:
"We are going to enter the so-called transition period when we join the EU, during which we try to meet the conditions of those chapters in the Schengen Agreement that are directly concerned with EU membership. When that is achieved, we'll start working on the factors necessary to become a Schengen state. We will also be linked to the Schengen data base. When the Czech government approved the Schengen Action Plan, it pledged to be prepared to join the Schengen Agreement by December 31, 2005. That is when the situation on the borders will change dramatically, as we'll stop protecting the green border area and will no longer continue with the border checks on border crossings with Schengen countries."
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