The Czech Interior Ministry has granted asylum to eight Chinese Christians seeking protection in the country on the grounds of religious persecution. The requests of seventy other applicants were rejected. A lawyer representing the group of Chinese Christians has said she will advise them to appeal the decision.
In the spring of 2016 close to eighty Chinese Christians filed asylum requests in the Czech Republic on the grounds that they faced persecution in their home country. The request coincided with a highly publicized revitalization of relations between Prague and Beijing making it a sensitive issue for the Czech government and inevitably bringing the case under greater scrutiny from migrant and human rights organizations.
For close to two years nothing happened and the government came under fire for dragging its feet on the case. In December of last year Ombudswoman Anna Šabatová called for action and this week the Interior Ministry sent out letters informing the individual applicants of its decision.
Eight asylum requests – from two men and six women- were granted. Interior Minister Lubomír Metnar said an investigation had confirmed their claims of persecution and the fact that their lives were in danger due to the fact that they were practicing Christians. The minister said there was no confirmation of this in the case of the seventy other applicants who were turned away.
Hana Franková, a lawyer from the Organization in Aid of Refugees, who represents some of the rejected applicants, told Czech Radio she would advise them to take the decision to court. Lawyer Franková claims some of the arguments behind the decision can be contested.
“Among the arguments that the ministry has presented to justify its decision are the fact that the applicant entered the country legally or found work of his own accord after a few months of being here. And there are other arguments involved that we find quite absurd.”
The Interior Ministry claims each request was carefully considered and the vast amount of documents provided by the applicants were painstakingly checked, which it says explains why the process took so long. According to an anonymous source close to the ministry cited by the daily Právo, there was another reason for the long delay. The ministry reportedly conducted its own investigation into each applicant with the help of the Czech intelligence services for fear that some of them could be Chinese agents seeking ways to infiltrate the country. The ministry has not confirmed this.
In any case not many Chinese applicants have been granted asylum in the past. According to statistics only seventeen Chinese nationals received asylum status in the years between 1990 and 2016, despite the fact that in certain years the number of applications far exceeded those in 2016. For instance in 2003 the authorities received 854 requests for asylum from Chinese nationals.