Saturday, April 26, 2008

Stop the discrimination against foreigners

Article by The Prague Post:

April 16th, 2008 issue

We were at the Foreigners’ Police in Prague early one morning recently, crushed in an anxious mob of people in the first-floor hallway. The hallway leads to a ticket dispenser that, at least in theory, guarantees you a meeting with a bureaucrat in the office, the busiest of its kind in the Czech Republic.

A colleague of ours set her child down for about 30 seconds to get her cell phone out of her purse. Tired of waiting for hours, the crowd chose that moment to surge forward, almost knocking down the little girl, who started crying loudly.

A police officer berated our colleague in front of the crowd. He said if she ever brought a child to the Foreigners’ Police again he would report her to social services, which might take her child away, since she wasn’t being a good mother.

All this came after a long, nightmarish wait in a mob outside trying get in the building. Later in the morning, the numbered tickets proved to be useless, as people spontaneously formed lines at the bureaucrats’ desks, and were taken care of with no regard for numerical order. By that time, the police had left.

If you’re a foreigner trying to do the right thing in the Czech Republic, you know this story already, or some variation of it. It’s part of a larger pattern that makes it hard to believe this country isn’t pursuing a deliberate strategy of making foreigners feel as unwelcome as possible.
Giving the government money is never a problem. We didn’t have to wait even one minute to file a tax return, or register to pay social security fees. Buying private health insurance (foreigners are often seen as a potential burden on social services) took about five minutes.

But God forbid that foreigners should try to do something as simple as, say, own a car. Under the city’s onerous new parking regulations, any permanent resident of the district can get an annual parking permit for 700 Kč ($43.80). But, if you’re not a permanent resident, even with a proper visa and a flat lease in hand, that same permit will cost you 36,000 Kč.

In addition to insulting, degrading and unnecessary, this strikes us as incredibly short-sighted. As the Czech population ages and more educated young people leave the country for better opportunities elsewhere, foreign workers offer a valuable addition to the labor pool. The Labor and Social Affairs Ministry has implicitly acknowledged this with a program encouraging foreigners to apply to be permanent residents.

But there’s already discussion about ending that program.

This country has a well-deserved reputation for xenophobia. It would be smarter for the people running the government to court outsiders instead of driving them away, so they can pay taxes and social security and health insurance fees.

And dare we raise the question of basic fairness? No law-abiding resident should have to endure the mob scene at the Foreigners’ Police, or negotiate to get his car out of an impound lot for a simple parking infraction.