Czech police stop marking refugees with numbers
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Czech police stop marking refugees with numbers

Critics say measure recalls Nazi Germany's practice of marking the arms of death camp prisoners

A Czech police officer writes on the hands of migrants at Breclav station on September 1, 2015 (AP)
A Czech police officer writes on the hands of migrants at Breclav station on September 1, 2015 (AP)

Czech police said Thursday they had stopped marking the hands of detained refugees with numbers after sparking an uproar among human rights groups, lawyers, media organizations, and Jewish groups.

Officers will from now on use “special wrist bands containing identification data,” Czech police said in a statement on their website. “The police is sensitive to criticism that has appeared in the media.”

Police used markers on Tuesday to write numbers on the hands of 214 refugees, mostly Syrians, detained in the southeast of the country on trains arriving from Austria and Hungary.

Interior ministry spokeswoman Lucie Novakova told AFP the move was introduced “to prevent the children from getting lost” and keep families together.

But the measure raised eyebrows as it recalls Nazi Germany’s practice of marking the arms of death camp prisoners with numbers.

Czech Interior Minister Milan Chovanec said Thursday the police officers in the southeastern town of Breclav had to “work fast and under stress” when asylum seekers arrived in the middle of the night.

The Czech Republic has become a transit country for migrants travelling to wealthier EU states like neighboring Germany.

The prime ministers of the Czech Republic, Hungary, Poland and Slovakia will meet in Prague on Friday to deal with the refugee crisis.

Earlier, Italian Jewish leaders criticized Czech police for the practice.

News reports that “dozens of refugees were literally branded as if they were cattle at the slaughterhouse, inevitably recalling the darkest period of contemporary history, are just the latest in a series of disturbing events against which the voice of all civil and advanced societies must be firm,” Renzo Gattegna, the president of the Union of Italian Jewish Communities, or UCEI, said in a statement published on the UCEI website.

The practice, said Rome Jewish community president Ruth Dureghello, is “unacceptable.” She added: “It is an image we cannot bear, which recalls to mind the procedure at the entrance of Nazi extermination camps, when millions of men, women and children were marked with a number, like animals, and they were sent to die.”

“It is time that Europe understands that the phenomenon of immigration, while complex, cannot be confronted with methods that are repressive and offensive to human dignity,” Dureghello said.

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