Tech & Rights

Czech Republic Fails to Respect Rights of Child Refugees

The rights of migrant children and their families are not well protected in the Czech Republic, where volunteers make up for the state's shortcomings in caring for refugees.

by The League of Human Rights
Image: Josh Zakary - Flickr/CC content

Although the Czech Republic is only a transit country for most migrants, it is unable to ensure their appropriate protection, even for families. The unsatisfactory conditions are mainly found in the Czech detention facilities.

Degrading treatment

"The biggest violations include deprivation of migrants' personal liberty, restrictions on movement and also in handling their own funds or forcing them to stay in inhuman and degrading conditions," said Martin Rozumek, director of the Organization for Aid to Refugees.

"Any placement of child migrants and families with children in detention facilities is grossly against the best interests of the child and his or her right to positive development and, ultimately, may result in inhumane or degrading treatment,” said Anna Hofschneiderova, a lawyer for the Human Rights League. “The Czech Republic has been criticized for this practice for a long time, even by the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child, nevertheless, it still goes on.”

Volunteers step in

The state’s failure to meet the needs of refugees arriving in the Czech Republic has been made up for to some degree by the work of volunteers. Monika Horakova, who volunteers at the train station in Prague, said:

"At the main train station in Prague, we repeatedly meet mentally exhausted migrants, most often released from the Vysni Lhoty detention facility, wearing only summer clothes and holding an order to leave the country by a certain date in their pocket. We offer them lodging in our homes, substituting the role of the state and the city. This situation is untenable, because the number of those in need is not decreasing. Rather the contrary.”

10 violations against children:

  1. Children and families must not be placed in detention facilities for foreigners, yet this happens.
  2. Children and their families must immediately receive crisis intervention and specialized psychotherapeutic and social services. The children come from areas where they have been facing risk of serious harm due to armed conflicts, and bear numerous traumatic experiences and constantly find themselves in completely new stressful situations.
  3. Unaccompanied minors must be re-united with relatives in the EU in the shortest possible time. The League of Human Rights calls for effective cooperation with the state in accordance with the best interests of the child, so that the proceedings take the shortest time possible. At the same time, we appeal urgently to ensure that minors are informed of the proceedings in a timely manner and in a comprehensible way, and are frequently updated in order to prevent escapes of minors.
  4. Care for unaccompanied minors must be secured in an appropriate manner. Unaccompanied minors are primarily placed in a specialized facility for foreign children run by the Ministry of Education upon their arrival in the Czech Republic. When the facilities reach their limits, however, they are placed randomly in the network of childcare centers, orphanages and educational institutions around the whole country, in accordance with the available capacities. Children who have experienced severe trauma and are in need of particularly sensitive approach should not be placed into such institutions.
  5. Children must be sufficiently informed about their situation in an intelligible form, fully in accordance with their participatory rights.
  6. Children and their families must be provided effective access to legal assistance. This obligation is not met at present. Legal advice is provided by non-profit organizations on a voluntary basis. These organizations have insufficient staff and funds to meet demand.
  7. Children and their families must be guaranteed affordable, accessible and appropriate interpretation services.
  8. Children must be guaranteed the right to education, but also to engage in play and recreational activities. In the facilities in which they are currently placed, children often do not have access to the simplest activities appropriate to their age, and playtime is not allowed. If the facility is not able to provide a leisure activity for children itself, the League of Human Rights urges to them to at least allow access to services of volunteers of NGOs that can help provide activities for the children.
  9. In any facility for minors and their families, it is necessary to minimize invasion of privacy. Currently, children and migrant families often end up in institutions that collect their cell phones from them, even though it's the only link many of them have to other family members and the outside world.
  10. It is necessary to appeal to the human – not the repressive – attitude of the facility staff. The detention centers are based primarily on a repressive approach towards residents. Children are exposed to fear and insecurity, and often to abusive behavior by the staff. In such an environment, children should instead be given the opportunity to play, which would help them to cope with their situation.