Vietnamese seek Czech “Eden”

October 19th, 2007 Kimberly Ashton
Staff Writer, The Prague Post
October 17th, 2007

Phan Kien Cuong arrived in the Czech Republic in 1993 to join his father, who had studied electrical engineering here and owned a business. Now, Cuong says, “I don’t feel as if I am in a foreign country.” He’s fluent in the language, has studied at local schools and appreciates “Czech women, beer and historical buildings.” He works as a legal assistant and says he feels respected by his native colleagues. “I feel rooted and integrated into Czech society,” Cuong, 28, says. But as a growing number of Vietnamese immigrants move to the country, officials worry that fewer and fewer will have experiences similar to Cuong’s. “There is a difference between the applicants [then and now],” says deputy foreign minister Jaroslav Bašta. “Now there are Vietnamese who come [here] to do business … [But] also the phenomenon of recruiting unqualified Vietnamese people for labor and manual work is on the rise.” Before, he says, applicants were more likely to be educated and to have connections to the country. In recent years, there has been a crush of Vietnamese visa applicants. In 2001, about 900 Vietnamese citizens applied. So far this year authorities have received 10,041 applications from Vietnamese people, Bašta says. Since 2000, the local Vietnamese population has risen 73 percent; it has quintupled to about 46,000 since 1994, according to numbers provided by the Czech Statistical Office. Vietnamese are now the third-largest group of foreigners in country, behind Slovaks and Ukrainians. Bašta says he thinks the rise of Vietnamese applicants comes from a combination of a few factors: the fear that the Czech Republic will crack down on visas after it joins Schengen, organizations in Vietnam that promote visas as well as an image of the country as a good place for Vietnamese people to live. “Someone told them that the Czech Republic is Eden for them,” Bašta says. This “someone” is often a representative from an organization that sees a money-making opportunity in offering assistance to secure a visa. “Migration is a very similar business to smuggling drugs,” Bašta says. One common ploy people use to improve their chances at getting a visa is to join what Bašta calls “so-called cooperatives,” since membership in such groups is one criterion on which applicants are judged. The problem is that some of these organizations are charging upwards of 10,000 Kč [$500] — or ten times the average monthly salary in Vietnam — for this dubious membership, he says. Applicants have also been scammed by people who claim to be organizing queues outside the Czech Embassy in Hanoi and charge them $100 to stand in line, according to Bašta. Recently, he says, Vietnamese police has cracked down on this operation. He notes that the area in front of the embassy is not under the control of Czech authorities. Dismal prospects Despite these schemes, Vietnamese citizens in general have a worse chance of getting a visa today than they did a decade ago, when the visa-refusal rate hovered around 10 percent: Today it’s about 50 percent, Bašta says. He thinks this high refusal rate is reflective of the type of applicants who are applying. “I’m afraid that the people waiting for visas in Hanoi are people without a chance for success in the Czech Republic,” he says. Those who do make it here are still often “young, uneducated, have the wrong type of visa [to work] and have no money to return,” Bašta says. “It is now a big problem for the Vietnamese community … [and] it could be an economic and security risk for the Czech Republic in the future,” he says. What the country needs is a clearly defined immigration policy, he says. “In fact, we have no immigration policy,” and instead just react to pressure from applicants, according to Bašta. He says he hopes that the country’s inclusion in Schengen next year will help define immigration policy and that in any case the country will reduce the number of visas it grants. But those who work with Vietnamese immigrants say they are far from being a potential burden on the local economy: the country needs the labor new arrivals provide. “More and more people come here to work manually. Many factories struggle with the lack of manual workers and they impatiently await the arrival of Vietnamese workers,” says Eva Pechová, chairwoman of the Club Hanoi Civic Association in Prague. Also, she says, an increasing number of Vietnamese students are also coming here. The Vietnamese community overall, and in particular those who have lived here since infancy, is well-integrated into local society, she says. “This group of people is trying to improve the impression of the Vietnamese community in the Czech Republic,” Pechová says.

— Naďa Černá and Hela Balínová contributed to this report.


Vietnam steps up relocation for dam reservoir

HANOI (AFP) — Vietnam has started relocating 14,000 more people to build the country’s largest hydro-electric dam reservoir in a northwestern mountain region near Laos, officials said Tuesday.

The group, many of them from the Hmong and Thai ethnic minorities, are the second large group to be resettled for the 2.6-billion-dollar dam project, set to start operating by 2015, after about 25,000 people were earlier moved.

Pham Thi Dao, a provincial official in charge of the relocation programme, said a ceremony was held in Son La province Monday to mark the start of the new resettlement phase, and that in total more than 90,000 people would be moved.

Construction for the dam project started in December 2005, and the reservoir area is set to be flooded in 2010. A 215-metre (700-foot) dam wall will create a reservoir covering 18,000 hectares (45,000 acres), officials say.

Critics have said the scheme will force tens of thousands of mostly poor people to change their lifestyles from rice growing along river banks to carving out a new living in villages on less fertile hillsides.

Environmental group the International Rivers Network said people living in two pilot resettlement sites were having trouble adjusting.

“People were moved from the river valleys to higher ground where there is no land for rice farming and where they have to learn new methods for growing tea, coffee or raising dairy cows,” the group said in a statement. “The change in farming practices has proven extremely difficult for them to adjust to.”

Dao, the resettlement official, said “our target for the end of 2008 and early 2009 is to resettle a total of more than 90,000 people for the project.”

She told AFP that the relocation had affected the lives and agricultural practices of some people, many from ethnic minorities, but said that most of them were gradually adapting to their new lives.

“Some of them have gone back, for farming and cattle raising, to the areas of their former houses, but they are a minority,” she said. “In the long run, I see no problems for this large resettlement scheme.”

The dam is projected to generate 2,400 megawatts of power. Vietnam’s energy needs are projected to grow 15 percent a year, or about twice the pace of gross domestic product growth, the Asian Development Bank has estimated.