Sunday, July 5, 2009
VISA REQUIREMENT FOR ROMANI
FROM: THE GAZETTE
BY PETER O'NEIL, EUROPEAN CORRESPONDENT
CANWEST NEWS SERVICE
The Canadian government is finally following through on its threat to crack down on Roma migrants from the Czech Republic who have been arriving in Canada by the hundreds each month claiming refugee status, the Czech media is reporting.
Immigration Minister Jason Kenney informed his Czech counterparts earlier this week that Ottawa, which lifted visa requirements for Czech visitors to Canada in late 2007, will re-impose that restriction on Tuesday, according to the People's News, the oldest Czech daily newspaper.
An activist in the Czech Republic who advocates for Roma rights said Canada will be making a mistake if it goes ahead with the re-imposition of the visa requirement.
"Business people will be encumbered, legitimate asylum seekers will be encumbered, and discrimination (in the Czech Republic) will continue. It's not a pro-active approach," Gwendolyn Albert, director of the Women's Initiatives Network, told Canwest News Service in a statement.
A spokesman for Kenney would neither confirm nor deny a pending Ottawa decision to bring back the visa requirement.
"I will not comment on confidential state-to-state discussions between Canada and the Czech Republic," Alykhan Velshi, Kenney's director of communications and parliamentary affairs, said in an e-mail to Canwest News on Thursday.
Velshi confirmed that Kenney met in Prague with senior members of the Czech government, including Prime Minister Jan Fischer.
"The increase in asylum claims from the Czech Republic — hardly an island of persecution in Europe — is a real concern and Canada is monitoring the situation closely," Kenney said.
"Since 2007, there has been no visa requirement for Czech nationals. However, visa-exempt countries are aware that if they do not satisfy the conditions of Canada's exemption, the requirement for a visa may be re-imposed."
He noted that Jean Chretien's Liberal government lifted and then re-imposed a visa requirement for Czech visitors in the mid-1990s after a similar flood of refugee claimants from the Roma minority, which is subjected to widespread discrimination in Czech society.
Velshi made clear the government's concern that the media reports could spark an even larger flood of asylum seekers.
"It would be the height of irresponsibility for me to comment on whether or not Canada plans to impose a visa, because that kind of speculation could result in a run on the border."
A spokesman for the Czech Foreign Ministry refused to comment.
There were 78 refugee claims from the Czech Republic in 2007, all at the end of the year after the visa decision took effect, compared to none for all of 2006.
The total soared to 861 in 2008, making this liberal democracy and member of the European Union the seventh-largest source of refugees in Canada — ahead of war-ravaged countries like Afghanistan and Somalia.
In the first three months of this year, the number of claimants from the Czech Republic jumped to fourth place (653). Mexico was first, at 3,648, with impoverished Haiti (688) and Colombia (656) just ahead of the Czech Republic.
Many of the Roma claimants settle in and around Toronto, with Hamilton being a favourite destination.
There are four direct Prague-Toronto flights a week, with asylum-seekers — who get access to welfare and social housing after arrival — sometimes making up anywhere from 20 to 35 per cent of the passengers.
There were as many as 68 claimants on the May 26 flight, and two days later there were 59, according to Citizenship and Immigration Canada.
The Immigration and Refugee Board has since 2007 accepted 118 Czech asylum applications claiming "a well-founded fear of being persecuted for reasons of race, religion, nationality, political opinion or membership of a particular political group."
© Copyright (c) Canwest News Service
Posted by Morgan at 10:31 AM