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Senator Okamura: "The Czech Republic cannot afford social immigrants"

Prague, 15.12.2013 2:14, (ROMEA)
Tomio Okamura (Photo: Vít Hassan)
Tomio Okamura (Photo: Vít Hassan)

On Tuesday, 10 December 2013, the Czech lower house discussed the first draft of a law establishing the position of labor immigrants from countries outside the EU. The amendment, however, was not approved upon a first reading as the Government proposed, and discussion of it will continue. 

The Czech Republic must implement an EU Directive on Unified Residence Permits by 25 December that recognizes the equal social rights of immigrants working in the Czech Republic and those of their family members. Czech Senator Tomio Okamura's "Dawn of Direct Democracy" movement (Úsvit přímé demokracie - UPD) sharply opposes the amendment and has repeated its usual xenophobic argument that "we don't have money for our own people and we will not take care of foreigners". 

Introduction of the Directive on Unified Residence Permits would guarantee foreigners, for example, access to health care or unemployment benefits, instructing the state to ensure equal access to the fulfillment of social rights to everyone who resides in a particular EU Member State for more than six months. The Rusnok cabinet, however, approved a draft bill on 20 November that denies foreigners equal rights and proposed the lower house approve it immediately.  

Czech MPs behaved responsibly and rejected the bill after a brief discussion, sending it immediately to the Health Committee, Petition Committee, Security Committee and Social Committee of the lower house for review. Czech Senator Okamura, however, very sharply argued during that discussion that foreigners who lose their jobs "should simply go home" because the Czech Republic "cannot afford to accept social immigrants". 

Such arguments are not based on any verified facts. "According to the available statistics from the Labor and Social Affairs Ministry, almost no immigrants take advantage of welfare here, so something like a 'social immigrant' doesn't even exist in this country, and Tomio Okamura is once again just singng his populist tune," warns Marie Heřmanová of the People in Need organization. 

"If someone wants to work in the Czech Republic and there is genuinely legal work here for them for which no Czech citizens are available, then that person should work and pay taxes here without any unnecessary bureaucracy or obstacles. Of course, once their job no longer exists, in our opinion there is nothing left for such a foreigner to do but to seek work in some other country," Okamura literally said.

"Mr Okamura is mentally stuck somewhere in the 1950s, when in Western Europe they attempted the so-called guest-worker model: 'Foreigner, come work, but once we don't need you anymore, get out of here'. That notion failed because the foreigners never left, and it just intensified problems with their integration," says Pavel Čižinský of Multicultural Center Prague.

Pavel Čižinský believes the EU is pushing today for foreigners to become integrated from the start of their residency. "The Czech Republic does not have to accept foreigners for work, but once we do accept them, we must give them equal rights. However, some of our politicians don't understand this," he said.

Today foreigners do not have equal rights in the Czech Republic - Okamura's construct of "social immigrants" is based on conditions that do not exist. As Linda Janků of the NESEHNUTÍ group says, "Immigrants from countries outside the EU who work in the Czech Republic and do not have permanent residence here are systematically discriminated against when it comes to health insurance and unemployment support."

While foreigners working in the Czech Republic deduct taxes and contributions toward the state employment policy from their wages, should they lose their jobs they are unable to register with labor offices and draw unemployment support. Even though they pay into the public health insurance scheme from their wages, should they lose their jobs, they lose their public insurance as well and must purchase it from commercial health insurers. 

"Some politicians such as Tomio Okamura not only do not respect the obligations incumbent upon the Czech Republic as per EU law and refuse to implement the Directive on Unified Residence Permits into the Czech legal order, they are even demanding further restrictions to the current situation, which is unsuitable as it is," Janků says. Just as racist and xenophobic remarks targeting the Romani minority have no place in either chamber of Parliament, we should also not tolerate populist, xenophobic invective against immigrants.

Even if he were willing to tolerate ordinary human decency and uphold basic human rights (which should include the understanding that when people work and pay taxes, the state should care for them should they be unable to work further), Okamura's remarks make no sense from an economic point of view, as the Czech population is aging and immigrants are an economic force the country needs now and will need even more in the future. Czech NGOs will therefore continue to strive for equal rights for foreigners.

These organizations place the greatest emphasis on the question of health insurance for foreigners. Their aim is to include foreigners who have long resided in the Czech Republic into the public health insurance scheme and end the dysfunctional, long-criticized system of commercial health insurance. 

brf, Nesehnutí, KNOPM, translated by Gwendolyn Alber
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Tags:  

Cizinci, Migrace, Populism, Práce, Tomio Okamura, Xenophobia, Zaměstnanost



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