Where do foreigners come from

In this dialogue, the children address a problem which takes many forms and to which there is no clear answer in the modern world. They also inform each other of the reasons which brought them to the Czech Republic. Often it was a very complicated family situation or even a tragedy which brought Suong, Jami and Olga to the richer parts of the world. In the dialogue we learn the children’s individual stories, and the text below offers a somewhat more general picture of the phenomenon of migration.

  • What is...?

Migration: A term for the geographical movement of individuals or groups, i.e. for the mobility of people within a narrower or broader geographical space. The motives for migration may be economic, ecological, national, political, associated with wars, natural disasters, etc.
- international migration – refers to movement between different countries
- internal migration – refers to movement within one country
- voluntary / forced
- legal / illegal

Immigration: Movement in the direction towards a country; to immigrate = to arrive somewhere, to travel somewhere (in the history of the Czech lands, for instance, the immigration of the Slavs to what is today Czech territory).

Emigration: Movement in an outward direction; to emigrate = to go somewhere else (the emigration that followed the Battle of White Mountain, Jewish emigration after World War II, the Irish emigration to escape famine in the 19th century, etc.), particularly being forced by threatening circumstances to do so.

Re-emigration: Emigration in an outward direction and then back again. The movement of people back to their country of origin.

Exile: Banishment for reasons of political, religious, or nationalistic persecution.

Asylum (today officially referred to as ‘international protection’): Refuge or protection against persecution. In official terminology, also a political (residential) status.

Foreigner: A general term for someone who is not “from here”, who is different. The word “foreigner” often has negative connotations. According to the Act on the Residence of Foreigners, the term refers to a citizen of another country. The popular perception, unfortunately, is of someone who, while having Czech citizenship, is perceived as someone different – someone who is not one of us because he or she is simply not Czech.

Target country: A country that is the object of migration.

Transit country: A country that a migrant merely passes through.

  • Topic

Migration in general
Migration (from the Latin migratio – moving), or the movement of people, is an age-old, still-current, and ubiquitous phenomenon. Migration often takes place without our even being significantly aware of it, in cases where we ourselves migrate from one place to another for work, study, on holiday, etc. Migration is something which is subject to much discussion at present. In particular it involves cases where people leave their home country for a period longer than a few weeks. The most common reason for this fundamental change is the natural effort to find a better environment, which offers better job opportunities or safety. For this reason target countries tend to be states with an advanced economy and stable political system. Given the Czech Republic’s geopolitical position we most often see migration towards advanced EU countries, North America, and Australia. However, it is necessary to bear in mind that for most people in countries in the so-called “third world”, it is difficult to gain access to these countries. Consequently, they often choose a more accessible and closer state as a target country.

At present there are around 175 million people living outside of their native country - the country where they were born, or of which they are citizens - a figure equal to around 3% of the world’s population. Over the last 25 years, the number of migrants has more than doubled. According to UN statistics, every year there are around 2 to 5 million more people living outside of their own country. The distribution of migrants in the world is very varied. More than half (around 60%) leave for advanced countries, the rest remain in countries with developing economies. The seven richest countries of the world (Germany, France, Great Britain, Italy, Japan, Canada and the USA) have about a third of the world’s migrant population within their territories. Even though more than half of migrants head for the advanced countries of Europe and the United States, reports by the European Commission show that the number of refugees in individual countries of Europe is significantly lower than in many developing countries that border with crisis regions. For example, Great Britain accepts around 80,000 applicants for asylum annually, while Pakistan took in around 2 million people in 2002 as a result of the war in Afghanistan in 2002.

One of the most serious issues connected with migration is illegal migration. The “high demand” for living in advanced countries among populations in less advanced countries has led to the introduction of more and more restrictive measures, or, at the very least, measures regulating the entry and residence of foreign nationals into advanced countries. However, illegal migration cannot be linked only to the illegal crossing of state borders, however much smuggling and mafia organisations do represent a particular problem. After the Czech Republic joined the Schengen Area this became for the country a problem which must be addressed by all states whose borders are also the outer borders of the Schengen Area (e.g. Poland, Slovakia, Hungary). On the other hand, even someone who has travelled to the Czech Republic with valid travel documents and the requisite residence permit can become an illegal migrant. While residing in the Czech Republic, foreign nationals can get into a situation where their permit becomes invalid (because they lose their job, complete their studies, are late in submitting an application to extend their permit, etc.). Any such person who does not then leave the Czech Republic by the relevant legal deadline then be without legal status. Upon discovery the person risks being deported, with further risk of a possible ban on re-entering Czech territory for several years. The person is at risk of such a ban even if he or she tries to get, for example, to his or her native country (upon leaving the country or Schengen) to obtain a new, valid visa in a country outside Schengen. Many people consequently prefer not to undertake that risk, instead opting to remain illegally on the territory of the Czech Republic, and with the help of illegal/mafia structures attempt to obtain a valid permit from somewhere else. However, foreign nationals residing illegally on the territory of the Czech Republic end up in a very vulnerable and exploitable position, and not unusually they wind up working for a minimum wage and in many cases are forced into modern-day slavery.

Migration within the Czech Republic
Given that Czechoslovakia and subsequently the Czech Republic only opened up to the world in 1989 after a long period of isolation, the phenomenon of migration and refugees is something Czech society is only gradually growing accustomed to. Moreover Czech society, as a result of its historical development (the Holocaust, the expulsion of the Sudeten Germans, 40 years of communist isolation, the division of Czechoslovakia), still has a very homogenous population which views anything new with a certain distrust. Understandably the situation has not improved with the world economic recession, as a result of which many economic migrants who had come to the Czech Republic to work lost their jobs and ended up in a difficult financial situation. However, it is necessary to distinguish between the demand for cheap labour and the demand for qualified experts. In order to attract the latter group to the Czech Republic several incentive schemes were set up, unfortunately without notable success. Nevertheless, it is clear that the Czech Republic needs and will continue to need migration, if nothing else in order to ensure that there is a sufficient large economically-active population here. Attempts to strengthen the labour market and the population structure on the whole are apparent right across in Europe. According to forecasts by the Czech Statistical Office, the Czech Republic should admit tens of thousands of migrants each year in order to maintain its current population size. If the doors to migrants close, there is a risk that in the next two decades the population of the Czech Republic could decline to as little as just 9 million.

As of 30 September 2011 there were 408,036 foreign nationals living in the Czech Republic, 195,865 of whom have a permanent residence permit, and 212, 171 of whom have some type of temporary residence permit (i.e. temporary residence permits for EU citizens and their family members, visas for residence over 90 days and residence permits for citizens of countries outside the EU). The largest group of foreign nationals with a long-term legal residence permit in the Czech Republic is Ukrainians (109,012), followed by Slovaks (80,235), then by citizens of Vietnam (56,055), Russia (approx. 28,142), Poland (18,989), and lastly of Germany, Bulgaria, Moldova, the United States and China. Data on illegal migration available for the year 2009 indicate that there were 4,457 people illegally residing in or entering the Czech Republic. The number of immigrants in the Czech Republic is still below average compared to countries of western Europe and North America, where the share of migrants out of the total number of inhabitants is usually around 5-10% (in the Czech Republic the figure is around 4%). Moreover, a substantial number of immigrants to the Czech Republic come from linguistically and culturally kindred regions and typically are relatively highly qualified – a large number of immigrants come from countries of the former Soviet Union or southeast Europe. The largest non-European enclave in the Czech Republic is of course the Vietnamese community, who have long shown strong economic self-sufficiency and thanks to a relatively long tradition of Vietnamese migration also a relatively good knowledge of the Czech environment. However, in the last decade new immigrants have come to the Czech Republic in several migration waves who lack this background and this knowledge, and these have been affected by the harsh consequences of the world economic crisis. The problem of immigrant employment is something which other European countries are also dealing with.

Reasons for and the prevention of migration
Several of the basic reasons for migration have been outlined above. As well as the most common economic reasons (poverty, the collapse of the economy in the “source” country, a low level of wages, a poor lifestyle, etc.), and other reasons with which we are very familiar from the past such as political or religious reasons and other generally well-known and accepted reasons such as war or natural catastrophe, illness or handicap (often collectively called humanitarian reasons), more and more people are also on the move for ecological reasons - or, more precisely, environmental reasons.

According to some theories, the effects of global warming, climate change and the ensuing loss of agricultural land and livelihood may within several decades put hundreds of millions or even billions of people on the move. There also exist theories predicting that the biggest international military conflicts of the coming century will be fought over drinking water. When we consider that the majority of the world’s population lives in so-called developing countries usually situated in unstable regions, not only in terms of their political and economic situation but also in terms of the environment. It is clear that the rich countries of the North cannot absorb such a number of migrants, and in the interests of their stability most of them must protect themselves against a large and sudden flood of migrants. It is clear that repression alone will not suffice, and in the source countries of migration there are more and more programmes being initiated which are financed by the governments of the target countries and aimed at supporting the local economy, providing an information service on the conditions of legal residence and risks of illegal migration, etc. At present the Czech Republic is pursuing programmes of developmental cooperation in countries like Afghanistan, Bosnia Herzegovina, Ethiopia, Moldova, Mongolia, Georgia, Serbia, the Palestinian Autonomous Territories, Cambodia, and Kosovo, among others.

A somewhat controversial practice is that of managed migration programmes (including the CR, which until recently followed such practices in relation to citizens of Kazakhstan, Belarus, Ukraine, Moldova, Croatia, Bulgaria, Serbia and Montenegro). On the one hand, these programmes are aimed at specialists in the countries in question, to whom a simpler route is already open to work, reside, and obtain a better job in a richer country, which understandably benefits from such immigration. On the other hand, there is talk of a “brain drain” which will increasingly afflict the country of origin, and will logically lead to greater economic deprivation and thus to more and more uncontrolled migration.

It is clear that the sphere of migration will continue to be a burning issue requiring more and more coordination and jointly recognised and enforced rules, effective methods of prevention, etc. in all those countries to which immigration relates.

  • Stories and examples

In the examples of the families of our characters, we have seen how difficult it is to evaluate the level of willingness to leave the country of origin for an unknown country with a perceived better life, greater security, etc. To what extent is this departure (owing to e.g. loss of land, loss of resources for ensuring a livelihood, or the threat of persecution) a voluntary one and to what extent is it forced? In the following example, we shall see that sometimes the main problem is not the departure itself, but the impossibility of return.

Story 1
Mrs. Nali’s husband was killed. With two young children and a third on the way, she was forced to flee and to hide with her relatives in the mountains for several weeks from government soldiers who were systematically persecuting the minority to which she belongs. She gave birth to her third child, a son, in the mountains. The difficult birth under tough conditions and all the experiences she had been through up until that point meant that Mrs. Nali suffered psychological problems. Her newborn son suffered many health problems. After an armistice was concluded in the country and employees of non-governmental humanitarian organisations arrived, her relatives registered Mrs. Nali with one such organisation. It organised transport for her, her sisters and children to the Czech Republic, where she was provided with healthcare which was unavailable in her own country, now devastated by war. Just as it seemed that Mrs. Nali’s state of health and that of her son had stabilised and that they would be able to return home, the conflict started up all over again. The family could not return, though it wanted to more than anything else. Mrs. Nali lost contact with her relatives and does not know what happened to them. Because of this, her state of health deteriorated once again. Mrs. Nali is completely dependent on help from doctors and from her sisters, who look after her children. Because asylum is not awarded for the reason of war, they have a survival visa, with which however they are unable to survive at even the level of the minimum living wage. They are thus supported by NGOs and by individual contributions from the Ministry of the Interior. They hope that they will receive permanent residence for humanitarian reasons and that the situation will be stabilised, at least in respect of their rights and duties.

Story 2
Sukhbaatar is a young man from Mongolia who was drawn to the Czech Republic by an attractive offer of work in a local factory. The job agency promised to take care of all the necessary documents, employment, and accommodation. He had to borrow from relatives to pay the fees for the job agency, which amounted to ten times the average monthly income. However, work abroad promised an opportunity to quickly repay his debt and make earnings well beyond what he could hope to make at home. However, shortly after arriving in the Czech Republic he discovered that the reality of his situation was far from what he had been promised. Heavy work demands and unbearable conditions at the dormitory were only the beginning of many unpleasant surprises. When he had to move to another dormitory after one month, he had no idea that this was a strategic move on the part of the job agency; no one told him that he had to register his change of address with the relevant authorities or he would lose his legal residence permit. Once he discovered that he had become an illegal foreigner it was already too late to fix things. The job agency forced him to accept different work for half the wages, and increased the cost of his accommodation, so that after deducting expenses for accommodation and food he had little left at the end of the month. There was no way he could repay his debt. Because he is unable to speak Czech, he is dependent on what others tell him or translate for him. He doesn’t want to return home: he would feel ashamed before his relatives. He still believes that his situation will improve. At present, however, there is little to suggest it will.
Last updated 9. November 2011

  • Sources

Baršová, A. & Barša, P. (2006). Přistěhovalectví a liberální stát: imigrační a integrační politiky USA, západní Evropě a Česku. Brno: Masarykova univerzita, Mezinárodní politologický ústav.

Centrum pro integraci cizinců – http://www.cicpraha.org

Člověk v tísni – projekt Varianty – http://www. varianty.cz






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