18th Mar 2018

UN: Czechs violate refugee rights to deter others

  • Some 147 children were being detained at Bela-Jezova, a former military facility in the Czech Republic (Photo: Bengin Ahmad)

The United Nations has accused the Czech government of deliberately violating the rights of refugees in order to deter others from arriving.

In a strongly worded statement, UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein, said Czech authorities are committing “systematic” violations.

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“They appear to be an integral part of a policy by the Czech Government designed to deter migrants and refugees from entering the country or staying there”, he said in a statement on Thursday (22 October).

Asylum seekers in the country are being strip-searched to confiscate money to pay for their own detention, he said.

“Many of these people are refugees who have suffered horrendously in their countries of origin as well as during their journey to the Czech Republic”, he said.

Zeid also spoke out against an “increasingly xenophobic public discourse” by Czech president Milos Zeman.

Zeman’s spokesperson on Facebook described the UN statement as a “verbal attack on the president” and said it was part of a larger campaign against the Czech Republic.

Refugee children in jail

Meanwhile, a report by the Czech ombudsman Anna Sabatova described detention conditions for asylum seekers in the country as "deplorable".

She said some 147 children had been sent to Bela-Jezova in August, a detention centre north of Prague.

"Bela-Jezova is a former military facility where the living conditions are, in many ways, much worse than those in Czech prisons", said Sabatova in her report.

The report states that basic hygiene is denied to infants and pregnant women.

It notes that parents are handcuffed in front of their children when transported and detained behind a 4-metre barbed-wire fence.

It states that police in full riot gear drag people out of their beds every night to count them.

It says that a family of four at Bela-Jezova will pay the state €1,075 for each month they are forced to stay.

It also notes that people are not informed of their rights and do not know why they are being locked up in the first place.

Because of it, Sabatova said the Czech government is infringing the European Convention on Human Rights and the Convention on the Rights of the Child.

Zeman, for his part, in October told Czech media that conditions at Bela-Jezova are comparatively much better than the countries from which the asylum seekers fled.

“I think it is perfectly sufficient”, he said.

The Czech ‘Donald Trump’

71-year old Zeman was elected president in 2013.

A former centre-left prime minister, Zeman’s outspoken views has drawn harsh criticism from human rights groups.

At a butchers shop last week in Southern Moravia, Zeman said that refugees would pursue Sharia laws and ignore Czech rules.

“Unfaithful women will be stoned, thieves' hands will be cut off and we will be deprived of the beauty of women because they will have to have their faces covered. I can imagine that in some cases this might be beneficial, though”, he was quoted as saying.

He also recommended arming citizens to help police the country's borders and turn back refugees.

Jan Culik, senior lecturer in Czech Studies at the University of Glasgow, told this website, that “Zeman is the Czech Trump”.

The aging politician is popular among large swathes of the Czech population outside of Prague, said Culik.

He said that Zeman had started out as a respectful economist some 25 years ago before entering politics. After becoming president, he began issuing some of his most controversial remarks.

“A couple of days ago they organised an Islamophobic conference in the upper house of the Czech parliament. He [Zeman] is behaving absolutely outrageously”, said Culik.

“He’s really quite decrepit”, he added.

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