EUROPEUM Institute for European Policy

  • In 2015, Europe faced its most serious crisis since the financial crisis of 2008; the so-called “migration crisis.” EU member states adopted different attitudes towards tackling the crisis, namely in case of acceptance of refugees and migrants in their countries.
  • The states of Visegrad group (Czech Republic included) objected vehemently against the refugee quotas. The V4 quickly became the “enfant terrible” in the European Union’s perspective due to their rejection of all EU-propositions relating to tackling the crisis in any way compatible with fundamental human rights.
  • Hungary and Slovakia clearly refused to take part in the refugee quotas, based on disputing the legal basis and the fear from losing their ability to control the borders, sovereignty or ethnic homogeneity.

In September 2015, after the European Council’s voting about the relocation mechanism, meant as an emergency plan, there was a clear lack of consensus. In a ruling by the European Court of Justice (ECJ), their objection was dismissed with the explanation that all member states are required to keep the obligations towards the European Union, i.e. acceptance of selected Council’s conventions, European Social Charter provisions, conformity to international law, acceptance of selected UN conventions, conventions on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, number of ECtHR judgments finding a violation etc. Also, the decision was based on the Article 78(3) TFEU, which clearly explains that ’in the event of one or more Member States being confronted by an emergency situation, characterized by a sudden inflow of nationals of third countries, the Council, on a proposal from the Commission, may adopt provisional measures for the benefit of the Member State (s) concerned. It shall act after consulting the European Parliament’.

Czech Republic was from the beginning extremely concerned about the numbers of migrants that might enter their country. According to statistics, the illegal migration of foreigners started increasing in 2015, when the number of was 8323 people. In 2014, 4641 came to Czech Republic seeking for asylum. Simultaneously, in 2015, only 1156 people asked for the asylum and settled in the Czech Republic, mostly from Ukraine, Cuba, Syria. In 2016, 5039 foreigners crossing the borders illegally. The crisis provided the impetus for the rise of populist parties capitalizing on fearmongering and Islamophobia, in large part fuelled by sensationalist media in the Czech Republic, who eagerly and unquestioningly embraced the false narratives of the President and right-wing nationalist politicians. When compared to, for instance, Germany, Sweden or France, the number of refugees and migrants in the Czech Republic are extremely low, which begs the question: why is the Czech Republic so afraid of accepting migrants or refugees? Why is the land of Havel, once a bastion of human rights, seemingly abandoning its legacy in favour of politics of fear?

Despite the low numbers, the Czech government is still abjectly rejecting the quotas. Czech President Miloš Zeman expressed his main concern about the escalating terrorism in Europe, referencing to, amongst others, the Charlie Hebdo attack in Paris to make his case for not accepting refugees – even though the Charlie Hebdo attack was not committed by refugees accepted during the crisis.

He instead proclaimed that each member state was to decide on their own how to help with migration issues in Europe, which is another way of legitimizing doing nothing. He also presented the possible influx of Muslim refugees posed a threat to a European culture and society. Given recent European history, this claim can be thoroughly refuted; the current migration crisis in 2015 is not the only one of its kind in recent European history, nor is it of a magnitude threatening ethnic and cultural homogeneity of the member states if the burden was shared equally with solidarity. After the breakdown of Yugoslavia, many people from different backgrounds were seeking for asylum, and Europe, at this time not comprising the infantile V4, dealt with it.

The subsequent Balkan wars saw huge influxes of Muslim refugees in Europe. Europe, again without the V4, dealt with it. According to Zeman, European Union has to strengthen the external borders and support countries where the refugees come from. In this context, Zeman set out the condition that only persecuted refugees can be granted asylum, which is not compatible with the European law principles and several global UN conventions as well. In terms of integrating migrants and refugees in the Czech Republic, the heavily politicized anti-immigrant discourse has had a negative impact on integration – and eroded political will to tackle these shortcomings. Migrant Integration Policy Index (MIPEX) indicates that the Czech Republic has numerous gaps in its integration procedures – hence it is only ranked 23rd out of 38 listed states. The most important failings are in political participation and education, but they found slight improvement in the citizenship tasks. MIPEX comes up with the task of the Access to nationality. It simply concludes the main dimensions, policy indicators and potential beneficiaries – who can become a citizen and also real beneficiaries – how many of them really become a citizen. For further information, see: http://www.mipex.eu/access-nationality.

Nevertheless, the Czech Republic has come up with few interesting projects to help refugees integrate. Most of the projects were organised in cooperation with European institutions and partners from other EU member states. For example, project ACCESS was set up to support their active membership in the society and political participation of the youth – and not only on the regional basis, but national and European as well. The next project called ELCI is targeted at the local structures, because it is just closer to the citizens.

Worth mentioning is the project “Vítejte v České republice” I and II (“Welcome to Czech Republic”), which was organised to improve the knowledge about their rights and responsibilities as well, also to get them a better view on the Czech society.

This project was created with a help from Ministry of the Interior of the Czech Republic, so we can see the combination of the government and non-profit organizations (Slovo 21 in that case), also with the International Organization for Migration (IOM). Regarding to the evaluation forms, both projects were rated as very good and useful (74 and 84%) and the participant’s knowledgeability has raised. The goal of the Czech integration policy still remains – communication, protection of human rights, independence and dignified life for them. Also, the Asylum, migration and Integration fund (AMIF) contributed to these projects and initiatives. As previously mentioned, Czech government also contributed to help. The state created Centres for support of the integration of foreigners, supports integration projects, offers help in the educational and cultural sphere too, the Czech Republic has at least one centre per region.

All those activities prove that there are still possibilities for refugees to become a regular part of the society, if the efforts remain. The discussion about the quotas is still open and without concrete result, but the Czech Republic (and other V4 members) maintain their position against resettling and EU quotas. How these countries will reconcile this opposition with their international obligations will undoubtedly be one of the key determinants as to how the world perceives these countries henceforth; after all, Czech Republic and other states who stand against quotas are still obliged to help refugees, according to the Convention for the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms and other UN conventions. The time to join the international community as constructive members is now.

Alexandra Visnerova

 

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