Responding to the Global Detention Project’s Covid-19 survey, the Public Defender of Rights (Ombudsman) of the Czech Republic reported that no moratorium on new immigration detention orders had been established and that no such measure was under consideration. However, the Czech Ombudsman said that despite this, it seems that authorities have minimised the numbers of immigration detention decisions ordered during recent months, especially during the first weeks of the state emergency which had been declared on 12 March 2020 and ended on 17 May 2020. Between 12 March and 19 May, 8 persons were placed in immigration detention, of whom 5 were detained for the purpose of Dublin transfers. On 20-21 May, 25 non-citizens were detained and in the period of 22 May to 7 June, 12 more persons were detained. The Ombudsman office was unable to obtain information on detention orders issued after 7 June.
Since 1 April, the Bělá-Jezová Detention Centre has been operating as a mixed facility, serving as a temporary mandatory quarantine facility for newly arriving asylum seekers and newly detained migrants, who are confined separately from the standard detainee population while in quarantine (see 4 June Czech Republic update on this platform). The “preventive quarantine” section’s staff consists solely of doctors and police officers. All new asylum seekers and newly detained migrants are automatically sent to this centre and they are obliged to abide with all quarantine measures. Following 14 days of quarantine, and if they do not test positive for Covid-19, they are sent to the respective facilities–regular reception centres for asylum seekers or migration detention for people in removal procedures.
Under Czech Republic law, for a person to be legally detained, they must fall under one of the grounds provided by the Foreign Nationals Act 1999 (FNA), including, inter alia, section 124(1), whereby “police may detain a non-citizen who is over 15 years of age: 1) if they have been notified about the commencement of administrative expulsion proceedings; 2) if a final decision on administrative expulsion has been made; or 3) if a re-entry ban has been imposed by another EU member state. The same section subsequently lists the specific grounds justifying detention in the above circumstances. As indicated by the Ombudsman, following this determination, authorities conduct an assessment of whether non-custodial measures would be sufficient. These non-custodial measures (“alternatives to detention” or ATD) are: 1) the obligation to provide the address of one’s place of residence, to reside at that address and report any change of address to the police on the following working day; 2) the obligation to provide a security deposit; 3) the obligation to report in person at a police station within a time limit stipulated by the police on a regular basis; and/or 4) the obligation to stay at a designated place by the police and be present to undergo a residential control.
Of the 25 non-citizens detained on 20-21 May, 23 were issued a detention order according to the above-mentioned reasoning, as they were deemed to not fulfil the conditions for an ATD measure to be imposed. All 23 non-citizens would have to undergo a quarantine because: 1) some of the non-citizens provided an address where they could stay, which was far from the place where the arrest took place. It would be dangerous to let the person travel there, as it may constitute a threat to public health; 2) the security deposit was not sufficient due to the lack of prospect of the foreigner leaving the territory, given that borders were closed and in general, countries imposed travel restrictions; 3) in light of the quarantine measures taken, it was not possible for a non-citizen to report in person to a police station; and 4) police could in theory appoint a specific place for a returnee to stay, but this specific place was dedicated to vulnerable persons and so the non-citizens in question did not fulfil this criterion. Police authorities thus concluded that ATD measures were not sufficient and issued a immigration detention orders.
The Ombudsman office informed that they were not aware of any detainees released from immigration detention and that rather, they had been informed of several detention extension orders. In addition, the Public Defender of Rights said that they were unaware of any measures taken to prevent the spread of Covid-19 when migrants or asylum seekers are released from detention centres.
Before 1 April, detainees were reportedly tested in the facilities where they were held. After that date and following the opening of the temporary quarantine facility at Bělá-Jezová, each person that is sent there is to undergo a Covid-19 test and an x-ray scan. Detainees are then tested again for Covid-19, 13 or 14 days following their arrival. If the second test is also negative, they are to be transferred almost immediately to another facility, depending on his or her legal status.
The Ombudsman office said that as far as they were aware, staff and detainees in detention and reception centres were provided with personal protective equipment. In addition, in these centres, several restrictions were imposed on visits, legal services, group-based activities in the centres, dining rules in collective canteens and others. The temporary facility however has a different regime. A systematic visit under the NPM mandate was carried out in this facility, yet the report has not been made public so far and so the Office of the Public Defender of Rights has refrained from commenting on this issue for the time being.
Moreover, the Ombudsman office stated that removals had been halted in practice. However, they have not received any formal notice of this from the government. With protective measures being lifted progressively, some removals to Slovakia have been carried out in recent weeks.
The government of the Czech Republic took several measures regarding immigration. From 14 March, the government banned the entry of foreign nationals to the country but provided certain exceptions. There was, however, no limitation on lodging applications for asylum. In addition, the government announced a ban on the entry of all foreign nationals arriving from states which were considered as highly risky at the time. This did nonetheless not apply to foreign nationals with a temporary residence permit for more than 90 days, permanent residence permit, and foreign nationals, whose entry was in the interest of the Czech Republic. Embassies of the Czech Republic suspended the processing of applications for visas as well as temporary and permanent residence permits, with the exception of those whose entry was in the interest of the country. Following the end of the state of emergency on 17 May, the Ministry of Health has been regulating cross-border movement by its protective measures. Currently, EU Member States, Norway, the United Kingdom, Iceland, Lichtenstein, and Switzerland are divided into three groups – high, medium and low-risk states. Individuals coming from these states, would have had different measures applied upon them.
The Ombudsman office said that Government Resolution No. 198 stipulated that foreign nationals who were lawfully temporarily or permanently present in the territory of the Czech Republic at the time of the declaration of the state of emergency were entitled to remain in the territory for the duration of the state of emergency. Also, foreign nationals whose visa or residence permit expired during this period are obliged to leave the territory within 60 days from the day when the state of emergency ended (i.e. 16 July 2020). No expulsion proceedings would be initiated against these foreign nationals and they would not be penalised for their stay in the territory during this period.
- Czech Republic Office of Public Defender of Rights, Global Detention Project’s Covid-19 survey, 23 June 2020.
- Global Detention Project, Immigration Detention in the Czech Republic, December 2018, https://www.globaldetentionproject.org/countries/europe/czech-republic
- Outside View of a Part of the Bela-Jezova Detention Centre for Refugees, (Press TV, “Conditions at Czech Refugee Camp Miserable: Rights Observer,” 13 October 2015, https://www.presstv.com/Detail/2015/10/13/433275/Czech-detention-center-refugees-BelaJezova-Bohemia)