Sunday, August 19, 2007

Looking at my last post about labour shortages in the Czech Republic you may well wonder what all this activity reported in the Prague Post is in fact all about:

Police raids prepare for Schengen

Illegal immigrants targeted in nationwide crackdown

By Hilda Hoy
Staff Writer, The Prague Post
July 4th, 2007

With the long-awaited entrance into Europe’s border-free Schengen zone fast approaching, Czech law enforcement is keenly following through on promises to beef up controls against illegal immigration.

That means increased police raids against illegal immigrants in Prague and beyond, said Kateřina Jirgesová, spokeswoman for the Foreigners’ and Border Police. “With the upcoming entrance into Schengen, more intensive illegal activities … related to illegal entrance or stay here can be expected,” she said. “The goal of these [police raids] is to eliminate such activities.” On June 21 and 22, some 500 officers from the Foreigners’ and Border Police carried out planned raids in five urban areas around Bohemia. Focusing on areas where migrants might congregate or work — such as marketplaces, train and bus stations, construction sites and accommodation hostels for construction workers — the officers checked nearly 4,600 foreigners, Jirgesová said. Out of those checked, 48 were taken into custody. Eleven were ordered expelled from the country. Police filed charges for 252 infractions, for everything from illegal stay to lapsed health insurance to failure to carry proper identity documents. A week earlier, the Foreigners’ and Border Police had also participated in a trans-border, cooperative police action against illegal immigration, said Interior Ministry spokesman Petr Vorlíček.

Law enforcement across eight countries — the Czech Republic, Slovakia, Germany, Austria, Hungary, Slovenia, Switzerland, Italy and France — collaborated to check immigrants in their respective countries and exchanged information and strategies. “It was one of the preparations for Schengen cooperation, because it is going to be necessary to work closely like that,” Vorlíček said. “These initiatives are going to be happening regularly, and their importance will increase after border controls are canceled.” Last year, 11,488 individuals entered or stayed in the Czech Republic illegally, Jirgesová said.

The Czech Republic is slated to join Schengen at the end of this year along with the nine other Central European and Baltic states that joined the European Union in 2004. However, admission is still contingent upon gaining the European Commission’s final approval for preparations made in the areas of border controls, transnational cooperation and visa and immigration, particularly for countries such as Slovakia that would be on the outer edge of the Schengen zone. The Czech Republic is coming along very well with those preparations, said Franco Frattini, European commissioner for justice, freedom and security, during a visit to Prague June 14.

But along with such initiatives should come increased training for police officers to understand the situation of immigrants, both legal and illegal, who have made the country their new home, said Viktor Rajčinec, chairman of the Ukrainian Initiative in Prague. Ukrainians make up approximately 70 percent of the illegal immigrant population here, the Czech News Agency (ČTK) reported. Officers should receive more training on the specific issues different immigrant communities face, and also learn more about the complex bureaucracy and paperwork behind immigration. “Sometimes the police don’t have a clue what’s going on,” he said. Rajčinec also hopes the Foreigners’ and Border Police will accompany its increased pressure on illegal immigration by making more attempts to improve its services to the legal immigrant community. “It would be great if the police worked in a more flexible way, and that there would be better conditions [at the Foreigners’ Police] so that people don’t have to jostle and push there. This would really help everyone,” he said.

Laying down the law

On the other side of the equation, lawmakers have also been taking steps to ensure that the Czech Republic joins Schengen without a hitch. On June 25, President Václav Klaus signed a bill into law that imposes tougher sentences against anyone involved in human smuggling. Those convicted could face up to 15 years in prison, ČTK reported. Preventing illegal immigration through legal channels will be an increasing priority, said Interior Ministry spokesman Vorlíček. “A lot of legislative changes have already been introduced,” he said, in particular laws regarding air and land border control and laws regarding the residency of foreigners.

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