Two recent news items reflect on the Czech Republic’s position as a kind of migrant Mecca in the EU’s eastern half. One reported a release of OECD migration statistics which records big falls in permanent migration into a number of countries in Europe from 2008 to 2009, arguably as a consequence of the financial collapse. The year-on-year decline for the Czech Republic was 46 percent, for Ireland 42 percent, with smaller drops recorded for other countries. Now, Ireland was among the first to begin tottering when the banking “crisis” engendered all those other “crises” we know and love. However, the Czech Republic came rather late to the party, only really beginning to feel the pinch in the housing sector after 2009 (and the government didn’t get around to major budget cutting until this year). But if those statistics are right it looks as though the early echoes of the disaster were filtering through to migrant source countries very early on.

But another reason for the drop in arrivals from one of the biggest source countries for migrants to the Czech Republic – Ukraine – could have to do with the notoriously, shall we say non-transparent, procedures at the Czech embassy and consulates. For several years we’ve been seeing news reports about under the table payments to consular officials, shady middlemen arranging visas and other dodgy tactics of the kind all too familiar to migrants in this country. Finally, a group of Ukrainians here had had enough and went to court seeking compensation for the undignified way they were treated by officials at the Czech consulate in Lviv (see photo on this page).

Several years ago the consulate began informing visa applicants they had to go through a mandatory telephone registration process for a fee of 300 crowns, about 12 euros. The registration could only be done through a “call center” operated by a firm that won a no-bid contract from the consulate. Thirty thousand applicants paid their fees to the operator, which came under scrutiny of the Czech corruption cops before being cleared of wrongdoing.

This week the Czech Constitutional Court ordered telephone fee refunds to about 160 Ukrainians. Their more serious complaint of an infringement on their right to privacy by the private call center was, however, rejected. So a handful of plaintiffs will get a few euros refunded to them – not a major win on the face of it, but maybe a good sign for the migrant workers who are so important for the Czech economy.

Ky Krauthamer

Ky Krauthamer is a senior editor at Transitions Online. Email: ky.krauthamer@tol.org

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