Statement by the Director of the Organisation for Aid to Refugees (OAR) on remarks made by Tomio Okamura, Member of the Chamber of Deputies, on immigration to the Czech Republic
With regard to the continuing xenophobic and populist comments made by Deputy Okamura who, evidently following the example of extreme right-wing parties abroad, intends to use this theme to build his political career, I must put right some of the things said by Mr Okamura:
1. “We are in favour of simpler rules, meaning that any social benefits should be collected by the individual, if possible, in his home country. If anybody comes to work here, let him work if he finds work. But if he does not have a job, he must, to put it simply, return home and not sponge on the system.” Source: zpravy.idnes, 19.3.2014
Comment by OAR Director: Let us leave aside the stern demographic forecasts that unambiguously point to the unsustainability of our economy and society without more substantial immigration. Our great advantage is that the most numerous groups of immigrants in the Czech Republic are people with a similar language and culture – Slovak and Ukrainian nationals. Mr Okamura’s proposal is a denial of the fundamental principle of social insurance – employed foreigners, the same as Czech nationals, pay mandatory health and social insurance contributions. The requirement of the EU directive on the unified residence permit( which is currently being debated by the House of Deputies) that a foreign worker who pays contributions into the social security system must be able to receive social benefits from the system makes sense.
The problem is the unfair set up of the Czech migration policy, which, on the one hand, aims at utilising cheap and often exploited migrant labour force to the greatest possible degree and, on the other hand, strives to minimise the participation of foreigners in the public budgets to which the economic migrants, who are predominantly young and healthy, contribute. For example, the law requires that foreigners have mandatory commercial health insurance, where many exclusions apply if they have more serious health issues; the result is that they leave behind debts to hospitals and doctors, which the insurance companies will not reimburse. When it comes to social benefits, in the first five years of their stay in the Czech Republic foreigners are in fact net contributors into a system from which they can benefit only very little. The fees paid for residence cards, validation of education certificates and language tests are not at all negligible and foreigners have thus become a very lucrative business not only for health insurers, but also for the State, for different kinds of agents and, of course, for thousands and thousands of companies that happily take advantage of this inequality and of the dependence of the foreigners on their employers.
2. “The authorities in the Czech Republic report a record growth in the number of applications of foreigners for Czech citizenship. According to the new law, fees have been reduced to one-fifth of their former amount, a considerable proportion of the foreigners do not need to prove their knowledge of the Czech language and of Czech facts of life, and do not even have to demonstrate at any time during their stay in the Czech Republic that they had not robbed the State of taxes, customs duty or other charges. Last year I was the only one in the Senate to object in public about the new law and I proposed two concrete amendments – but I was alone. Is it really necessary to hand out citizenship “automatically” to anybody who asks for it?” Source: okamura.blog, 20.2.2014
Comment by OAR Director: The Czech Republic has been in the long term one of the most rigorous EU countries when it comes to granting citizenship. In 2000-2010, according to Eurostat, in the EU only Slovakia (which has 7x fewer foreigners in its population than CR), Malta and Lithuania granted citizenship to fewer foreigners than the Czech Republic. State citizenship legislation was actually tightened up. There is definitely no automatic handing out of citizenship to foreigners. For comparison – countries of a similar size, for example the Netherlands, grant citizenship 25 times more frequently than CR; every year, Sweden and Belgium grant citizenship to approximately 30 times more foreigners than we do.
Another problem is the very long time during which a foreigner lives in uncertainty about the prospects for his/her future life in the Czech Republic. This is linked to the problems of integration and generally participation of foreigners in public life and their identification with the Czech society. Since we tolerate the exploitation of foreign workers during the first 5 years of their stay in the Czech Republic, and are one of the strictest EU states in granting citizenship, we cannot expect to have successful integration and inclusion of third country foreigners in public life. Their voice is not heard, they cannot take part in elections even in the municipalities where they live, they cannot join political parties; they are thus merely the object of restrictions by the State, not equal members of our society.
JUDr. Martin Rozumek
Director of the Organisation for Aid to Refugees
In Prague on 26 March 2014
The text was written under the project called "Foreign workers in the labour market," which was carried out by the Association for Integration and Migration, in cooperation with the Organization for Aid to Refugees and the Multicultural Center Prague. International project partners are Caritasverband für die Diezöse Osnabrück from Germany and the Anti-Slavery International from Great Britain.
Martin Rozumek is a lawyer and the director of the Organisation for Aid to Refugees (Organizace pro pomoc uprchlíkům – OPU).