Czech police spark uproar by tagging refugees with numbers

Government defends move, reminiscent of Nazi practice, says it was introduced because of increasing number of children

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)

PRAGUE, Czech Republic (AFP) — Human rights activists and lawyers in the Czech Republic on Wednesday slammed local police for marking the hands of refugees with numbers after detaining them on a train.

“There is no law allowing the police to mark people like this,” Zuzana Candigliota, a lawyer with the Czech Human Rights League, told AFP.

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

Czech police used markers to write numbers on the hands of 214 refugees, mostly Syrians, detained Tuesday at a southeastern border crossing on trains from Austria and Hungary.

Interior ministry spokeswoman Lucie Novakova said the move was introduced because of the increasing number of children among the refugees.

“Our goal is to prevent the children from getting lost,” she told AFP.

The measure was used with large groups of refugees to keep record of family members, according to Katerina Rendlova, spokeswoman for a unit of the Czech police dealing with foreigners.

“We also write the code of the train they have arrived on so that we know which country we should return them to within the readmission system.”

Unlike some other EU member states, Czech authorities maintain that migrants who enter the country without first having made an asylum request should be returned to the state from which they arrived, in line with the EU’s Dublin Provision.

The overwhelming majority of Czechs oppose hosting refugees, according to an August survey by local polling agency Focus in which 93 percent of respondents said they should be returned to their country of origin.

Rendlova said the refugees “used to get the numbers on a piece of paper but they kept throwing them away.”

“They have agreed with the marking — they don’t have a problem with this, they know it’s in their interest.”

But rights activists and lawyers cite legal and ethical concerns.

“I guess they agree because they believe the police officer has the right to do this,” said Candigliota.

“I know it’s difficult because the refugees have no documents,” Prague lawyer Marek Dufek told AFP.

But he questioned whether they had agreed to the markings: “Do they have a signed approval form in their native tongue?”

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