Kanadako Romano Phralipe
1344 Bloor Street
West Toronto • Ontario • M6H 1P2
www.romatoronto.org (P) 416•546•2524
Statement from the Roma Community Centre
University of Haifa's Honourary Doctorate of Philosophy Award to Canadian Immigration Minister Jason Kenney, organized by Canadian Friend's of Haifa University - Fairmont Royal York Hotel in Toronto on November 4, 2012.
Toronto’s Roma Community Centre has a mandate to serve our people, to promote understanding of Roma, including the Roma Porrajmos (i.e.Shoah) - during the Holocaust, where Roma and Jews were targeted for extermination and murdered in the Nazi death camps. In the past, we have used available opportunities to raise awareness and educate about the human rights abuses, endemic racism and discrimination, as well as racially motivated violence currently targeting our communities in Europe. We also support Roma refugees fleeing neo-Nazi persecution in Eastern Europe. In pursuit of these goals, we speak about our issues in public to a large number of varied audiences; we do not necessarily endorse the position of other speakers or groups on the same platform. Our intention is to help our community the best way that we can.
We are anti-Nazi, anti-Jobbik, anti-racist, we absolutely oppose anti-Semitism, and support the safety and well-being of all people.
The RCC firmly believes that Minister of Citizenship and Immigration Jason Kenney’s statements and policies about Roma refugees to be biased, prejudiced and detrimental, therefore we called for our community to demonstrate against the honorary degree he is to receive on November 4th from University of Haifa.
Mr. Kenney has called Roma refugees bogus, but has remained silent about the resurgence of neo-Nazi political agendas in Hungary – the Jobbik political party and its paramilitary allies have vowed to continue the work that the Nazis began Mr. Kenney should recognize the danger posed to both Roma and Jews by the extreme-right Jobbik Party, and has not done so. We base our position on documented facts about this matter.
Roma are being sent back to Hungary to face intimidation, violence, and even death. Jobbik wants to put Roma into ‘public order’ camps. Forced labour work camps became a reality for Roma in Hungary this past January 2012. In 2011 Jobbik's paramilitary wing Civil Patrol occupied a Romani neighbourhood in the Hungarian town of Gyongyospata for three weeks while the state stood idly by and contributed to this terror by their complacency.
On October 30, 2011, during his brief visit to Toronto’s Roma Community Centre, Kenney heard first hand accounts from Roma refugee claimants from Gyongyospata.
Until this moment, Jobbik’s Civil Patrol and their allies continue to target Romani neighbourhoods. Jobbik currently has 47 members sitting in the Hungarian Parliament, and 3 seats in the European Parliament. Members of their party are now mayors of cities and villages with higher concentrations of Roma living there. How would Jews on the Canadian Friends of Haifa University feel with a member of the Nazi party in this position of power in their neighbourhoods?
What has Mr. Kenney had to say about this? Jason Kenney and the Hungarian government remain notably silent about the growing neo-Nazi threat in Hungary.
In Canada, Kenney’s Bill C-31, Roma are discouraged from seeking asylum in here by the threat of detainment, subjected to an unfair two-tiered asylum process, and left with little to no option for appeal when refugee claims are denied. Moreover, while Bill C-31 is in the process of being fully implemented, Kenney has created the Assisted Voluntary Returns and Reintegration program (AVRR) whereby failed refugee claimants are encourage to leave Canada with the promise of re-settlement assistance valued up to $2000, rather than exhaust other options to appeal their negative decision. Since July 1, 2012, all refugee claimants have been affected by the partial removal of medical services. For example, children can no longer visit the dentist or the eye doctor. Once the list of "safe countries" is published in December, all refugee claimants will have no healthcare available to them unless they pose a threat to public safety.
The RCC, along with countless others that include the Canadian Association of Refugee Lawyers and a group of Canadian Jewish doctors, do not feel that Kenney deserves this award from Haifa University. However, this is an even more sensitive issue for the RCC than any other Canadian group, particularly in light of the establishment of a Holocaust education fund in Kenney’s name that will result from the fundraising dinner where he when he is given this distinguished honour. Kenney continues to blatantly turn a blind eye to the "other" victims of the Holocaust who are witnessing history repeating itself.
As an old Romani proverb goes, "our ashes were mingled in the ovens". Thus, how can it be fair to legitimize one’s pain, and discredit the other’s suffering? Almost all of the Hungarian, Czech, Slovak, Croatian, Serbian, Bosnian, Polish, and Romanian refugees to Canada have relatives who perished in the Holocaust – in some cases, entire families.
The intentions were for the Roma Community Centre to demonstrate on November 4th about of these injustices to our community, as noted above. What resulted is a large coalition of social, economic, and political justice groups that oppose Kenney’s draconian immigration and refugee policies, and the government’s role in foreign affairs toward Israel. For the RCC, our members feel that our message is becoming lost in the diversity of voices and interests disseminating from all of these different groups, some quite controversial.
As a result, the leadership of Toronto’s Roma Community Centre has decided that they will organize the Roma community to meet, march, and demonstrate on Saturday November 4, 2012 as an independent organization.
From the beginning, opposing Haifa’s award to Kenney has been about remembering and honouring all Holocaust victims, so as to not make it a one-dimensional experience by catering to one victim while revictimizing the other. The world’s historical collective memory did not include us Roma as Holocaust victims – it is now time to include and acknowledge our community. Where we are acknowledged, only a quarter of the genocide victims are counted – those 500,000 which were registered in work and death camps and received official tattooed numbers. What about the other 1,500,000 that were murdered in large rural spaces and buried in mass graves? Should they remain uncounted?
By Kenney consistently failing to make even a small reference to Roma in all of his support for Holocaust victims - he is making it abundantly clear that we should remain a people uncounted. By Haifa University establishing a Holocaust Education Fund in Kenney’s name – they are participating in the exclusion and marginalization of the Roma community. The award itself is an insult after how unfairly the Roma community in Canada has been treated.
Gina Csányi - Robah