Mišto aviljan ka o Aj-Rromale! Kado blogo si pe kultura thaj nevimata le Řomenge, thaj vunivar le Phirutnenge. Na dara te de amenge vareso te arakhes, kaj interesno tumen si. Te interesnil pe kongodi te žutil amen le blogosa, phen amenge!Welcome to Aj-Rromale, a blog about the culture and world news of Romani, and sometimes Travellers. Please, feel free to submit anything of interest that you find. If anyone is ever interested in helping to run this blog, please let us know!
Regarding the content on this website!
The images do not belong to us unless stated. All credit is given to the owner and websites linked up if we can find the information. The same goes for the news articles.
If you ever see your own work on this website and you do not want it to be shared here, please contact us and we will remove it.
Pe-l fotura po kado vebsajto!
Le fotura thaj nevimata po kado sajto naj amenge, te či phenas. Sa le kreditura dinile si, thaj das bišajimo vebsajtosko ke šaj arakhas e informacija.
Te dikhes tire butja po kado vebsajto, thaj či mangan, ke avile kathe, te phen amenge thaj ame durjaras les.
Canada’s Hungarian Roma community is on edge as changes in federal laws may make it much harder for them to successfully claim refugee status in Canada.
With the passage of Bill C-31 in the spring, the government is set to produce a list of countries thought to be safe and unlikely to produce refugees.
Refugee applications from those countries will be processed more quickly, but there will be no opportunity for rejected claimants to appeal. The changes were designed to weed out bogus refugee claims.
But if Immigration Minister Jason Kenney adds Hungary to its list of so-called safe countries, as activists fear he will, it could mean deportation for local Romas, who face rampant discrimination in Hungary.
A Romani man and his family in Coquitlam have already been scheduled for deportation in the coming weeks.
“They don’t believe my story. that I was persecuted in Hungary,” said the man who would not have his name published for fear of reprisal when he arrives in Budapest.
“I got a threat. I was in a racist neighbourhood. They always told me that I am a Gypsy and that I have to leave the country . They want a clean Hungary, which means no ethnicities like the Gypsies and Jews.”
Roma-Hungarians from Coquitlam, Burnaby and New Westminster protested potential deportations outside the Immigration and Refugee Board of Canada in Vancouver office last Tuesday.
The Coquitlam man had been working in a warehouse and leading a bible study group in New Westminster.
For the first time, they felt safe and had a future to plan for, he said. He had hoped to start his own painting business, but he now faces an uncertain future in Budapest, where there is high unemployment, especially for Roma.
He and his wife were both attacked by racist gangs before they came to Canada in 2009, and things have only gotten worse, as hatred of Roma is on the rise, he claims.
“I really don’t understand why [the government] doesn’t see what’s happening now in Hungary. The country is not a safe country,” he said. The decision to screen out Roma refugees is likely based on old racist stereotypes, he added.
“Not all Gypsies are criminals, as the say. Those people are my friends and my family members here in Canada. They are working very hard.”
The Coquitlam deportee’s fears are justified, according to Shayna Plaut, a PhD candidate at the University of British Columbia studying Roma issues.
“There’s an increasing xenophobia in Hungary,” Plaut said. “Hungary [was] an almost model country in transition going from socialism to democracy. It is now singled out as a country that is sliding back into fascism at an alarming rate.”
In Hungary, Roma are systematically denied work and often forced onto government assistance, which often means being sent to government labour camps, Plaut said.
Gypsies, as they are known in Hungary, are also targeted for violence by paramilitary groups that are offshoots of right-wing political parties, and local police are often complicit in their investigations, Plaut added. In 2008 and 2009, 48 Roma were killed in more rural areas of Hungary.
“If you look, in 2008 and 2009, there’s a rise in refugee claimants in Canada,” Plaut said.
As for why things are getting worse, Plaut said it is tied to a bad economy that has yet to recover from the 2008 crash.
“When you have economic problems, society will tend to look for the enemy, and look for the enemy within. We’ve seen a long history of that,” she said.
Kenney did not respond to a request for comment by the NOW’s deadline, Tuesday.
Roma-Hungarian refugee families from Coquitlam, Burnaby and New Westminster gathered for a rally Tuesday outside of the federal immigration offices on Georgia Street in Vancouver.
“Roma people, Roma families have a big fear to go back to Hungary. Their life is in great danger there,” said Florian Botos, a Burnaby resident who helped organize the rally. The rally attracted mostly Roma refugee families who came to Canada from Hungary.
According to Botos, Roma people in Hungary face widespread discrimination and attacks from neo-Nazis, some of which have resulted in death.
“We heard that the government claimed that Hungarian-Roma refugees are bogus refugees,” Botos said.
“It’s not true. These people who are with me today, they own businesses, they come here (to Canada) - as refugees. Those are hardworking people, they came here, not to be on welfare, they came here for protection.”
This fall, Immigration Minister Jason Kenney is expected to come up with a list of countries that are considered safe and don’t normally produce refugees.
Cases for refugee claimants from countries on this list will be heard faster, but those rejected will have no chance to appeal. The government’s move is an attempt to discourage people from so-called safe countries from abusing Canada’s refugee system.
“Refugee claimants from designated countries will continue to receive a fair hearing at the independent Immigration and Refugee Board but will do so under an expedited timeline, as is standard practice in many Western democracies,” said Alexis Pavlich, press secretary to the immigration minister. “Just as before, nationals of designated countries will continue to be able to make asylum claims, be able to attend an asylum hearing, and to be subject to the same principles of natural justice and due process.
“Canada has the most fair and generous refugee system in the world. We accept one in 10 of all resettled refugees, more than almost any other country. In fact, our government is increasing the number of resettled refugees Canada welcomes by 20 per cent a year.”
According to a Canadian Press report published in The Globe and Mail Tuesday, the federal government may consider detaining Roma refugee claimants if recent changes don’t curb their numbers.
The article was based on an internal Canada Border Services Agency report obtained through access to information laws.
“Other deterrent measures being examined include detention for mass arrivals of individuals seeking refugee protection,” the report stated.
According to the Globe, most of Canada’s refugee claimants in 2011 were from Hungary, and the majority of those are believed to be of Roma descent.
Nearly all of those 4,442 claims were rejected or abandoned, the Globe reported.
Members of the Roma community make up the top users of Canada’s voluntary return program. Photograph by: Getty Images , Postmedia News
Little more than two months into a federal government pilot project that promises free flights home to some failed asylum claimants rather than prolong the appeal process, the numbers indicate many of the 91 individuals returned so far were sent to Hungary.
The situation is raising concerns in the Roma com-munity. According to the Canada Border Services Agency, Hungarians - the bulk of whom are said to be Roma - are the top users of the Assisted Voluntary Return and Reintegration Pilot Program which began in the Greater Toronto Area on June 29.
The program provides free airfare and up to $2,000 in in-kind resettlement ser-vices to eligible claimants if they agree to give up their fight for refugee status.
Roma Community Centre executive director Gina Csanyi-Robah likened the program to a “bribe” and said many people are “misinformed” about it.
The federal government is prepared to consider detaining Roma refugee claimants unless recent amendments to the refugee system are successful in reducing the number who apply for asylum, newly obtained documents suggest.
A tougher approach may be necessary if a plan to speed up the screening process and block illegitimate claims isn’t “aggressive enough” in reducing the number of Roma applicants from Europe, an internal Canada Border Services Agency report says.
“Other deterrent measures being examined include detention for mass arrivals of individuals seeking refugee protection,” says the report, which was drafted before before the Conservative government introduced a crackdown in June on bogus refugee claims.
Public Safety Minister Vic Toews has power to designate refugee claimants as “irregular arrivals” and detain them upon entry to Canada.(Frank Gunn/Canadian Press)
The newly revised refugee law gives Public Safety Minister Vic Toews the power to designate refugee claimants as “irregular arrivals” and detain them upon entry to Canada. The amendments are to take effect by the end of the year.
Asylum applicants falling under that designation would be held by CBSA pending investigations into their admissibility.
Such an approach would “require significant resources from the CBSA, and will have significant legal implications,” warns the report, obtained by The Canadian Press under federal Access to Information laws.
Toews’s office did not directly respond when asked whether the minister is considering applying the designation to Roma refugee claimants.
In an email, spokeswoman Julie Carmichael said only that any decision to use the designation “would be made in accordance with Canadian law.”
Hungary was Canada’s biggest source of refugee applicants last year with 4,442 claimants — the majority of which are believed to be Roma, a stateless ethnic group. Almost all of the claims were rejected or abandoned.
A mandatory visa requirement for Hungary would be the “most effective” way to reduce the number of Hungarian applicants in the short term, the report says.
It also says speeding up the processing of claims and placing restrictions on claimants from countries unlikely to produce legitimate refugees was a better solution in the long run — changes that are now being put in place.
Safe country list under review
Though Ottawa has yet to decide which countries will be on the so-called “safe country” list, it’s expected to include European Union nations.
Some applicants from Hungary come to Canada solely for the purpose of “exploiting” social assistance and health benefits, but not all Roma claims are illegitimate, the report notes.
The number of Hungarian claims started to skyrocket after June 2009, when Ottawa imposed a visa requirement on the Czech Republic — another country that has been a departure point for Roma refugee claims.
Immigration Canada spokesman Bill Brown said in an email that immigration officials review a “wide range” of factors when considering imposing travel visa requirements, adding the department is currently “monitoring the situation in Hungary.”
A move to detain Hungarian claimants could result in children being locked up with their parents, the report indicates.
It notes that more than three-quarters of the nearly 3,000 Hungarian applicants arriving at Toronto’s Pearson International Airport over a 10-month period last year came as a family.
A decision to detain Roma claimants would likely face a legal challenge under provisions of the Canadian Charter of Rights that protect against arbitrary detention, said Lorne Waldman, president of the Canadian Association of Refugee Lawyers.
Confining all refugees from a certain country or geographic area would also likely result in legitimate applicants being detained alongside questionable ones, he added.
“Genuine refugees will be thrown into detention for lengthy periods of time while their case is being processed, and they’re going to be subjected to the psychological trauma that often accompanies detention,” Waldman said.
Though he expects confining specific refugee groups would reduce the number of applicants over time, the human cost and potential rights violations would outweigh the possible benefits of easing pressure on the refugee system, Waldman argued.
The CBSA report was prepared in the wake of the Conservative government’s public frustration with the challenge of reducing refugee claims from Europe.
Immigration Minister Jason Kenney has singled out Hungarian refugee applicants, accusing them of targeting Canada with bogus claims of persecution in order to collect financial support and tap into government resources intended for well-founded claims.
There has been a lot of controversy lately about Immigration Minister Jason Kenny’s plans to change benefits for refugee claimants. One of the most prominent (and largest) groups of refugees the past few years have been Hungarian Roma, so they are a big part of the debate. I was shocked when I first heard this- it was beyond my imagination to think Canada could be accepting refugees from a country within the European union…
I have an intimate relationship with Hungary. It was the first country I lived in when I moved to Europe, I learned the language and integrated myself quite deeply into their culture. Years later, after I moved away, I even returned there to hold my wedding ceremony. I cook a mean gulyás. Needless to say, I love this country, and always look forward to my next trip there.
I’ve had many experiences with the Roma- some good, and some bad. Being a foreigner there, I was a bit of a target, and had many instances where Roma had tried to rob or pickpocket me. Equally, I worked with a truly wonderful Roma man who I am still friends with this day. One can’t judge an entire culture by these experiences- there are both good and bad people in the Roma community.
That said, this is a community with some serious problems- most of them related to poverty. This is a common problem with nomadic cultures around the world- they typically are poorer, less educated, facing issues of racism and exclusion. The Roma face similar problems as Irish Travellers, and the Dom People in the Middle East.
I love the Hungarians- but, will be the first person to admit that many people in their culture are rather racist. Their country has gone through tough times over the past hundred years, they’ve been invaded and repressed by foreigners many times, and they consequently have a difficult time dealing with people who are not like themselves.
If you wish to insult a Hungarian (please don’t try this at home) probably the worst thing you could call them is a “Cigány paraszt” (Gypsy Peasant). So, it’s hard to deny that many Hungarians have problems with the Roma. That said, like most countries, there are as many Hungarians who aren’t racist as who are. The only real difference with the Hungarians is that they are more likely to express it than people in other countries.
But, the Roma aren’t all innocent in this problem- from my experience, a large number of Roma are racist too. My Roma colleague would always remind me of this- and he used to share with me that people in his own community would exclude him because he was working for Hungarians. Regardless of what Canadian radicals like to say, racism is a two-way street- marginalized people can be racist too.
There weren’t very many Roma in Vancouver, so I wasn’t very aware of the influx of Hungarian Roma until I arrived in Toronto. I was shocked when, on my first week here, I saw a Roma woman begging at the entrance to the Dufferin subway station. For a moment I had a flashback to being in Hungary, both because of this sighting, and because the poor quality of the station- it was a rather awakening experience. Since then, I’ve met several Roma, and have twice had the opportunity to help translate for them in my local corner store.
OTTAWA — It appears the Conservative government’s tough-on-refugee stance is hitting a nerve with Canada’s Jewish community.
In the latest salvo, the Toronto Board of Rabbis sent a letter to Stephen Harper raising concerns about his government’s decision to designate some countries as safe, democratic, non traditional producers of refugees under Bill C-31 which becomes law this week.
They further slammed the government for singling out Hungary’s Roma population, discriminating against refugees based on how they arrive in Canada and taking away some of their access to health care.
Hungarian Roma Refugees in Canada are facing a concerted effort by Stephen Harper’s Conservative government to delegitimize their claims of persecution - effectively labeling them “Bogus Refugees”. As Hungary is part the European Union it is considered a “Safe Country” where the rights of ethnic and religious minorities are protected under the law. The stories of the Hungarian Roma who flee institutional discrimination and physical violence reflect a very different reality. Hungarian society is deeply divided and at the brink of civil war. Pre-war fascist/Hungarist ideologies are again in vogue. The majority of rural Hungarian Roma live in far worse conditions then 20 years ago. Segregation and further marginalization face the younger generation as thousands of people flee their homeland in search of a better future. In 1939 the Jewish refugees aboard the Ms. St. Louis were refused help and turned away from Canadian shores. Most of them perished in the Concentration Camps. The current Canadian Government is now responsible for assisting in the persecution of the Roma by labeling them as “bogus refugees”.
They are on the wrong side of history just as Prime Minister William Lyon Mackenzie King was in 1939.
BUDAPEST — The Hungarian government said Wednesday it was making preparations for the return of up to around 5,200 Roma whose applications for asylum in Canada look set to be rejected under new rules.
“The emigrants won’t come back tomorrow,” said Zoltan Balog, minister for human resources and social affairs. “We will have time to prepare and solve the problem.”
Under incoming new Canadian regulations aimed at tightening up the country’s immigration system, European Union member state Hungary is classified a democratic country and that therefore its citizens cannot claim asylum.
According to the Canadian embassy in Hungary, around 5,200 people will be affected, with 4,500 Hungarians having applied for asylum in Canada in 2011 and 700 this year, almost all of them from the Roma minority.
Activists say however that Hungary’s 6-800,000-strong Roma population, two percent of the total and its largest but poorest minority, faces open discrimination, with anti-Roma rhetoric and violence on the rise.
“It is true that it is tough for Roma to succeed in Hungary,” Balog’s ministry said in an earlier statement.
“But thanks to programmes introduced in recent years we want to offer the possibility of an education for everybody. Hungary is our common home.”
Canada re-introduced a visa regime for Hungarian nationals in 2001 due to the large number of immigrants, mostly Roma, arriving from Hungary, after a visa-free period of several years.
But the visa requirement was dropped for Hungary, as well as for fellow central and eastern European countries the Czech Republic and Slovakia, in 2008, which triggered another influx of immigrants.
June 20th is the day designated by the UN as World Refugee Day. We wish to acknowledge the work of one person this year who has been recognized for her service to Roma refugees in Canada: this is Gina Csanyi-Robah, Executive Director of the Roma Community Centre in Toronto. Look out for a more in depth article on Gina soon.
Gina Csanyi-Robah has been awarded the Queen Elizabeth II Diamond Jubilee Medal in recognition of her service to Canada’s Roma community. Csanyi-Robah is the executive director of the Toronto-based Roma Community Centre and is a passionate advocate on behalf of Canada’s Roma population. When she learned of her award Csanyi-Robah said, “While I am very grateful to be recognized for the work I have done, I would be happier if … the Harper government recognized that countries such as Hungary and the Czech Republic are not ‘safe countries’ for the persecuted Roma minority, and to stop inadvertently condoning these human rights abuses that are taking place in parts of Central and Eastern Europe.”
She wants to use the award as a means of drawing attention to revisions to the process of refugee determination in Canada. “There are reforms that need to be made to our refugee system, but this Bill represents a major setback to the Canadian human/ refugee rights struggle,” says Csanyi-Robah.
Photo courtesy of Gina Csanyi-Robah
The Roma Community Centre is a not-for-profit organization created in September 1997 following the arrival in Canada of over 3,000 Czech-Roma refugees. Its goals are to help newly arrived and Canadian Roma; and “to raise awareness through public education about the ongoing abuse of human rights of the Roma people and the rapidly growing nationalist and neo-Nazi movements that promote anti-Roma racism and hate” in countries where Roma continue to face persecution and systemic discrimination.
The Centre relies on volunteer support which Csanyi-Robah deeply appreciates. “It has been wonderful seeing so much of a positive outpouring from Canadians. We thank everyone that has supported our cause, and the many volunteers that have dedicated their time to helping the Roma Community Centre.”
Gina Csanyi-Robah received her award at a June 13 ceremony in Toronto.
For more on the Roma Community Centre, click HERE.
TORONTO—The Toronto Roma Community Centre’s one-room office, located on the ground floor of the Crossways Plaza in Toronto, has been operating in this location since October 2011. Founded in 1997 after the arrival of over 3,000 Czech Roma refugees in Canada, the RCC is the only organization for Roma operating in Toronto. Originally based out of the office of Culturelink, an immigrant settlement organization, the new space now hosts a number of different programs including a weekly English as a Second Language class, a women’s support group and immigration counselling.
According to Gina Csanyi, Executive Director of the RCC, since acquiring the new office space there has been a dramatic rise in the number of people coming to the centre—around 20 per day—mostly Roma from Hungary. Csanyi said, “as things become progressively worse in Hungary more and more are fleeing.”
The Roma, more commonly known in the English-speaking world as Gypsies, are Europe’s largest minority with an estimated 8 to 12 million living in Europe, the majority in Central and Eastern Europe. Roma trace their roots back to northern India and are said to have left their home country and migrated west over 1,000 years ago. Throughout their long history in Europe they have been subjected to slavery, exiled, killed, used as scapegoats and have been historically marginalized in almost every country they have settled in. During the Second World War military officials sent the Roma living in Nazi-occupied countries en masse to concentration camps. Seven thousand Roma lived in the Czech Republic before the Second World War; less than 600 survived.
Today they suffer low employment rates, low education levels, lack of access to government services and health care, poverty, segregation and violent crimes perpetrated by neo-Nazis and skinheads. Forced school segregation programs and state removal of children affect Roma families in some jurisdictions.
Since 1997, thousands of Roma have been seeking asylum in Canada, the first wave coming from the Czech Republic, quickly followed by Roma from Hungary, and to a lesser degree Slovakia and Romania. Currently the largest group of Roma seeking asylum in Canada are from Hungary.
In recent years, changes to visa requirements and changes to immigration and refugee laws have created significant challenges to those wishing to immigrate here, leading to a massive decrease in the number of Roma accepted as refugees.
I met Robert and Monika, two volunteers, in the Roma Community Center on a Friday afternoon. They were helping organize the Hungarian Roma community.
According to Robert, a Hungarian Roma who came to Canada with his wife and child in 2010, one of the major problems in Hungary is that Roma are afraid to speak up about the persecution and discrimination they face because they have little support. Members of the police and government are intolerant of his people, he says. A far-right nationalist party that specifically targets Roma and Jews has grown into the third largest political party in the country and has spearheaded anti-Roma legislation. If Roma were to speak up, says Robert, they could lose their jobs and neo-Nazi groups would threaten them. The risk and insecurity prompted Robert and his family to flee the country. “I never want to go back,” he says. He and his family are waiting for their refugee court hearing to determine whether or not they can stay in Canada.
For many Hungarian Roma, applying for asylum in Canada is their last hope at finding a safe place to raise a family. Monika, another Hungarian Roma who came to Canada with her husband and 2 children said, “We had to sell everything to come here: our house, everything. We have no place to go if we return.”
According to Csanyi there are a number of obstacles the Hungarian Roma face when coming to Canada such as a lack of understanding of the rigorous process of the refugee system and what documents are expected for each refugee case such as police and medical records. It is often difficult for Roma to obtain these papers in their home countries because of police and state discrimination.
In Toronto, lawyers profiteering on the refugee claims of Hungarian Roma are also becoming an issue. “When I meet a client and see who their lawyer is I immediately know if they are going to have a successful claim or not,” says Csanyi. “These lawyers don’t even meet their clients. They cut and paste PIFF forms, have an almost zero acceptance rate, stretch out the case for years and once legal aid runs out they drop the clients.” This severely affects the chance of a successful outcome in the hearing.
The recent history of Roma immigration to Canada has been a complex one, which Csanyi and others say has been aggravated by immigration legislation such as Bill C-11 and the newly proposed Bill C-31.
The latest Roma immigration wave began in 1997, as rates of neo-Nazi attacks and discrimination in their home countries increased. At first the Immigration and Refugee Board largely granted the Roma refugee status based on the evidence of systematic and long-term persecution in the Czech Republic and Hungary. The acceptance rate for Hungarian Roma before 1998 was around 78%.
As the number of Hungarian Roma refugees increased in 1998, the Immigration and Refugee Board organized an unprecedented examination of the overall conditions in Hungary that would be used in deciding other Hungarian Roma refugee cases. This is the only time such an investigation, known as a “lead case,” has been carried out in the history of the IRB.
The lead case involved two families and the tribunal decided that the conditions in Hungary did not amount to persecution and denied the claimants refugee status. The result was that acceptance rates for Hungarian Roma dropped from 70 per cent to 8 per cent from 1998 to 1999.
On March 27, 2006, the lead case was overturned by the Federal Court of Appeal on the basis that it was designed solely to limit the number of Hungarian Roma accepted as refugees in Canada. From 1998 to 2006, more than 10,000 Hungarian Roma refugees were rejected and deported back to Hungary.
Newly appointed Immigration Minister Jason Kenney publicly vocalized the idea that refugee claims made by European citizens were illegitimate. Starting in 2008, the term “bogus refugee” became synonymous with refugees coming from so-called “democratic” countries. This had a strong impact on the outcome of refugee claims made by Roma coming from Eastern Europe. In 2008 the acceptance rate for Czech Roma was 94 per cent. After these public statements the acceptance rate plummeted to 10 per cent in 2010.
Soon after, the government established new visa requirements for Czech residents (as well as Mexican residents), drastically limiting them from coming to Canada and applying for refugee status.
Kenney’s targeting of Roma refugees sparked legal action in the Roma community. Rocco Galati, a Toronto-based immigrant lawyer, and the Czech Roma community launched a lawsuit against Kenney accusing him of blatantly undermining the Immigration and Refugee Board’s independent tribunal process by spreading bias against the Roma. Court action is ongoing.
Despite these difficulties, last year there were 4,423 new refugee claims in Canada made by Roma from Hungary, with 5,975 cases still pending. While Hungary is currently the country with the highest number of refugee claims made in Canada, its acceptance rates are one of the lowest. The 2011 acceptance rate of refugee claims from Hungary was 18.3 per cent compared to the national average of acceptance rates, which was 44.6 per cent. The average wait time for a hearing is three years, forcing many people to live in long-term uncertainty. Many point to immigration legislation and institutional bias against the Roma as the reason for these low acceptance rates.
The Balanced Refugee Reform Act (Bill C-11) was passed in 2010 under a minority Conservative Government. At the time of adoption, some of the more contentious parts of the legislation were removed in order to satisfy opposition party demands, only to resurface in the Conservative Government’s latest immigration bill, C-31.
Kenney has said he hopes to see Bill C-31, named Protecting Canada’s Immigration System Act, passed by June 2012. Bill C-31 is an omnibus bill that incorporates aspects of several previously proposed pieces of legislation. The new laws would allow the detention of “irregular arrivals”—those who arrive by boat, for example—without a warrant or an appeal. It would also grant the Minister of Immigration sole authority to set a list of “safe countries,” which are deemed to be capable of protecting their citizens. This would limit the ability of residents of these countries to apply for refugee status and would revoke their option to appeal a rejection. They would also only be given 15 days to prepare and file their written statement which sets the basis of their claim, leaving little time to find legal counsel and translation.
Julianna Beaudoin, a PhD candidate at the University of Western Ontario, has been researching Roma and human rights issues since 2002, specifically focusing on the Canadian IRB and immigration policies. “Bill C-31 is yet another way the Canadian government is trying to reinforce the notion that there is a ‘queue’ for refugees, and groups like Roma who are taking active roles in trying to escape persecution and violence are ‘jumping the queue,’” says Beaudoin. According to Beaudoin, Canada, as a signatory to the UN Convention on the Status of Refugees, has an obligation to provide Roma with a fair refugee hearing.
According to the government, assignment to the safe country list will only come after investigation, though there are questions as to whether other factors could be at play. Syed Hussan, an organizer with the immigrant and refugee rights organization No One is Illegal, argues that “safe country” legislation is linked to economic factors and trade agreements that Canada has signed or is negotiating. In particular, Canada is currently negotiating the Comprehensive Economic Trade Agreement (CETA) with the European Union. Hungary is a member of the EU and held its Council’s presidency last year.
Critics question Canada’s willingness and ability to accept refugees from countries with which it has signed trade agreements, since such economic affiliations often tacitly show support for a country’s political system as well. Placing these countries on the “safe country” list gives the Canadian government the power to turn away large numbers of refugees. “We call this bill the Refugee Exclusion Act,” says Hussan. “This bill gives [immigration officers] massive powers of detention [of] anyone who is not a citizen and demolishes all the key pillars of a permanent refugee system. If citizenship can be taken away at the whim of a government we are in deep trouble.”
Last week’s new immigration omnibus bill takes aim at refugees from supposedly safe places, like Europe. It is ironic that refugees from Europe are now the most suspect. The current legal definition of a refugee was created in the aftermath of the Second World War. Until the mid-1960s, only Europeans could be refugees.
There are three things wrong with targeting refugees from Europe. Each one of them is complicated, so they make bad sound-bite politics.
The first is that despite the existence of the European Union, Europe remains a variety of different nations. Conditions in those nations vary enormously. This is common sense for any-one familiar with the rolling waves of European financial woes. Despite the blanket of human rights protections now in place at the European level, access to those rights is uneven. Some individuals have utterly inadequate rights protections, which is why some Roma are found to be refugees, in Canada and elsewhere, every year.
This brings us to the second problem. In moving to become an ever more inspiring paragon of human rights glory, Europe itself has stepped outside of international law and eliminated refugees from within its borders. In harmonizing its asylum laws in 2006, European nations agreed that no citizen of a European nation could be a refugee. Unfortunately, this legal change does not change the reality of people’s lives. But under this agreement no one from a European state can claim refugee protection in another European state. This ups the ante for other refugee-receiving states like Canada.
Citizens of European states can cross Europe’s borders freely. And they can seek work anywhere. But without work, they cannot remain permanently; they cannot become full members of society; they cannot build settled lives. European citizenship is not like full national citizenship, it is tightly bound to fitting into the economy. This is hard to do for people who have faced persecution all their lives. Indeed, the persecution that keeps people out of the for-mal economy and hurts their chances of joining it, is one reason why some-one might be a refugee.
The economic focus points to the third problem. Often when Canada wants to limit the flow of asylum seekers, our government imposes a visa on nationals of the country in question. This is what Canada did in 2009 with Mexico and the Czech Republic. This is invariably unpopular with the governments concerned, as it has been in these cases.
But in the case of the Czech Republic, the contention has stretched across Europe. Because Canada is seeking to close a trade deal with Europe, it is politically unthinkable for us to impose greater visa restrictions on all European nationals. So rather than use a high-profile, political way of stemming asylum flows, the new measures take aim at individual countries. This ducks the political cost and instead imposes a human rights cost.
It is very hard for a European national to make a successful refugee claim. This is why so few claims are successful. But every year some are. Because the bar is so high, these refugees often have horrific stories. In a political atmosphere where the European refugee is increasingly unfathomable, this is not surprising.
No one is asking Canada to do more than it has committed to under inter-national law. But Canada must not do less. Every refugee claimant must have the same chance to be heard. Those few who are refugees from Europe need the steadfast support of nations like Canada now more than ever.
It is true that many states have introduced provisions that are harsher than those in place in here. There is a race to the bottom in refugee law around the globe. We need not win it.
Catherine Dauvergne teaches in the faculty of law at the University of British Columbia.
Robert fled his native Hungary in the winter of 2010. At 36, he had a job and a home in Budapest. He was doing well where many were not. (The economy in Hungary crashed in 2008 and has yet to recover.) But Robert—who did not want his last name used for fear of what might happen if he’s ever sent home—is also Roma. And for the Roma, life in Hungary, which was never easy, has become much more difficult of late.
Robert, who is working part-time as a caretaker in Toronto, says he was attacked and beaten three times by gangs of Hungarian nationalists. Not long ago, someone scrawled the word “cigány”—a nasty slang for Roma—on his apartment wall. Later, a Molotov cocktail exploded against his door. Robert flew with his wife and young son to Canada. There he joined a growing queue of Hungarian Roma seeking political asylum.
Since 2008, refugee claimants from the former Communist country have soared. From a paltry 34 in 2007, the number of Hungarian applicants climbed to 2,297 in 2010. That made Hungary the top source for refugee claimants in Canada that year (it continues to lead the category in 2011).
The Immigration and Refugee Board doesn’t keep stats by ethnicity, but almost all Hungarian applicants are thought, by those who study the issue, to be Roma. And in recent years, Canadian officials have not greeted Roma asylum seekers with particular warmth. Roma refugee claimants from the Czech Republic are the main reason a visa requirement was reimposed on visitors from that country in 2009. Rumblings of a similar sanction on Hungarians bubble up every few months. Success rates for asylum seekers from Hungary, meanwhile, have dropped off in the last half-decade. In 2006, 52 per cent of Hungarian claimants were accepted; just two per cent were accepted last year.
A big reason for the drop, many believe, is the hardline public stance taken by Jason Kenney. The immigration minister, who once called Czech Roma claims “bogus,” has made no secret of his belief that many Hungarian claimants are economic, not political, migrants. Indeed, the question remains: with so many nearby European options, why are Roma flocking to Canada? Hungary is a democracy and a member of the European Union, as Kenney has pointed out. And Roma remain free to start new lives in other EU states.
Canada, says Aladár Horváth, a former Hungarian politician and Roma activist, is “more open than most Western European countries.” Government coffers are certainly in healthier shape. Italy is among several countries to propose expelling EU citizens dependent on state benefits—a move seen to target the Roma.
Horváth says discrimination against the Roma in Hungary is no fiction. Since 2008, violent attacks against Roma—at least six fatal—have been climbing. Today, says Horváth, “more than half the Roma population rightly fear they are in immediate danger.” For many would-be refugees from Hungary, “status” remains a moot point. More than 1,000 Hungarian applicants abandoned or withdrew their claims last year. If that rate keeps up, Hungary’s Roma problem, for better or worse, will become less and less Canada’s to solve.
Violeta Balog was born in June in 1987 in Novi Sad, Serbia. She is one of the board members of Amaro Foro e.V , the regional Roma youth association in Berlin which is part of Amaro Drom e.V. Since 1995 she lived with her parents and two younger brothers in Berlin, where she currently studies to become an educator for children.
In 1995, Violeta and her family went to Germanybecause of the difficult economic situation, plus it was a period between two wars in former Yugoslavia. They sought their fortune in the area of Charlottenburg, Berlin. In the area of Charlottenburg then had a shelter for refugees, there were really good people, and Violeta’s family received an apartment there. However, then began the journey from one refugee camp to another and it was like a carousel in the period between 1995 and 2002 year. All the migrants were in East Berlin, Lichtenberg, Marzahn, Pankow etc. In the 2002 the family got its own apartment in Hohenschönhausen.
In all of these emergency shelters her family experienced nice and bad moments. In the period from 1998 to 2000, they were housed by Red Cross. They lived to five people in one room; everything else had to be shared with other families – a shower, toilet and kitchen. It was really not easy to lead such a life. They received regularly breakfast, lunch and dinner and 250DM a month, like in prison. It was not allowed to leave the building and return whenever they wanted, they even needed to show some sort of proof that they really lived there. One good thing in the refugee centre was that the family could share their suffering. The living conditions were very bad, dirty and inhumane.
In 2002 the Balog family received their residence. In the past the family had only a tolerated status enjoyed by refugees in order to delay deportation, and the so-called tolerated status was valid for two to three months and then they had to ask again for renewal. Thanks to finally receiving a temporary residence permit, the family was allowed to leave the refugee centre and the life for refugees and it allowed Violeta’s parents to seek work. Her mother visited several courses in German language and then began to work. Violeta in 2009 received permanent residence status due to her involvement in the educational system. Her brother has received the same status as she did; however, the younger brother and her parents still just a two years lasting permit.
Violeta is also strongly involved in the story of the organization Amaro Drom e.V. In 2009 she had been in Bremen on a national conference of interior ministers. Absolutely, she had no idea what awaited her in Bremen, and what to do there, but before that it would definitely be fun when there are so many young people. On the last day there were various workshops and she visited the workshop of the Roma. There she met people from Amaro Drom. Violeta leaved them her numberand and she kept herself in the contact with Amaro Dromo e.V. After the return to Berlin, Violeta received an invitation to visit the organization.
Since this moment Violeta has become a very active member in the youth movement in Berlin. She has held in different schools workshops for students against antigypsyism. She says that it is really important for the young generation that Amaro Drom provides a space for exchanging experiences and also where they have the help and support from others. Young people from Amaro Drom e.V actively took part in different youth events with debates, cultural activities and public actions during this year, such as celebration of the International Roma Day 8 April, Herdelezi and other events.
Violeta believes that many young Roma women do not have that freedom as she did. She told us that for what she has become today, she had a very long way, relationships, fights… She believes that everyone in our life can achieve something and that achievements are real and possible.
Jozsef and Tmea with their daughter in their Toronto apartment. Even in Canada the Roma refugees remain worried about their personal safety. (Nov. 2, 2011) AARON HARRIS FOR THE TORONTO STAR
Jozsef and Timea live in a sparsely furnished apartment in Toronto’s Thorncliffe Park. The central feature of their living room is a pink toy house with white balconies and a few tiny people, none of whom seem to interest the shy 3-year-old who is flicking through a book while watching children’s television. Jozsef used to work for Viktoria Mohacsi, former Hungarian member of the European Union Parliament. Timea worked in the human rights sector. They had a reasonably comfortable life in Budapest. Yet in September 2009 the small family left their home as refugees. They felt they had to escape.
Jozsef tells me about the evening he tried to protect Timea and the baby from four black-clad, bat-wielding thugs who had followed him home from Mohacsi’s offices. “They piled out of a jeep, shouting that they would kill us. They hit me over the head and shoulders. I was on the ground. They grabbed Timea by the hair. They were yelling at her that she was dead. I threw myself over the baby.”
“None of this was totally unexpected,” Jozsef continues. “There had been a lot of threatening phone calls but the ferocity of the attack and my sense of helplessness stunned me.” He knew Mohacsi needed constant protection as the recipient of the 2009 Women of Courage Award “in recognition of her extraordinary contributions in defence of human and civil rights of the Roma community all over Europe.”
Jozsef, Timea and Mohacsi are all Roma. Roma in Hungary, Jozsef says, learn to live with a certain amount of abuse. There is open talk of “gypsy criminals.” One of the parties now in parliament talked of dealing with “gypsy crime” as part of its election platform. The paramilitaryGárda stage marches near Roma areas of the country and, while the government has banned the formal Gárda, its members and followers continue to march.
They show me a documentary report of the latest attacks on Roma in Gyongyospata. What I see are crowds of swaggering men in dark clothes, boots, caps and some Hungarian flags (as a former Hungarian, I particularly resent the use of the flag). They throw rocks through windows, yell through loudspeakers and, as one Roma mother complains, threaten the children on their way to school. The police, Jozsef says, “are not much interested in complaints by Roma.”
The Roma do not fare better in other central European countries. Despite the EU’s 2000 Charter of Fundamental Rights, their lot has deteriorated since the end of the Iron Curtain. The EU’s guarantees of dignity, freedoms, equality, justice and solidarity seem not to apply to them.
It is hard to think of dignity among the rats in Kosice’s Roma ghetto. Or of equality when, despite the condemnation by the European Court of Human Rights, the majority of Czech Roma children end up in special schools or classes for the mentally challenged. Until 1990, the Czech government routinely sterilized Romani women. During World War II, the Nazis murdered Roma at designated killing sites — including Auschwitz — and no one kept count of the dead.
In 2009, I wrote about the tragedy in Tatarszentgyorgy, Hungary, after I visited the grieving Csorba parents, whose son and 6-year-old grandson were murdered by black-clad men wielding guns and Molotov cocktails. My writing about this elicited some hate mail from Hungarians who felt I lacked sympathy for people who had to live cheek-by-jowl with gypsies (Roma).
Dislike for Roma runs deep in central European societies. A 1990 Los Angeles Times poll showed that fully 80 per cent of central Europeans view the Roma as the “evil other.”
Generations, whole communities, have been left out of the workforce. Hungarian Roma leader Aladar Horvath told me that Roma life expectancy is about a third shorter than that of their non-Roma fellow citizens.
It is not surprising that Roma families try to flee. Their options, though, are limited. They cannot work in France or Italy without proof of domicile. Locals are unsympathetic. We are now more than halfway through the EU’s Decade of Roma Inclusion, and the situation of the Roma has only worsened.
Most Canadians’ first encounter with Roma comes in the form of warnings about purse-snatchers in Europe. Special areas, such as the Spanish Steps in Rome, the railway station in Madrid and St. Mark’s Square in Venice are highlighted in travel brochures as dangerous for the unsuspecting. The truth is that, while tourists are unlikely to get seriously hurt by a Roma swarming or a child-thief, the danger is enough to colour their notions about fairness and equal rights.
The unasked question is that if the Roma are not allowed to work, how can they feed their children?
During the 1990s, Canada’s acceptance rate for Roma seeking asylum was high. But as the flood of refugees grew during the last decade, the Immigration and Refugee Board toughened its stance. It was only after the restitution of visa requirement for Czechs that Czech numbers plummeted to only 62 applicants in 2010 from 2,210 in 2009.
Possibly, the IRB’s judges are influenced by our government’s position that the Roma are economic refugees and, as such, they should wait their turn among other would-be immigrants.
They used to be successful immigrants. Through the late 19th and early 20th centuries, according to Romani-Canadian author and academic Ronald Lee, “they came as family groups, travelled West, got land, raised horses.” Later, they started garages, supplying trucks and automobile parts. Many became successful small business owners. “In this multicultural society,” Lee adds, “they have all but disappeared as Roma. They don’t look any different from other Canadians.”
Nowadays, Lee tries to help Romani refugee claimants. It is not an easy task. Most do not speak English and find it difficult to fill out the IRB’s forms. They are unused to our legal system. Some fail to file their personal information forms within the designated 28 days of arrival. If it is not done on time, the person is deemed to have abandoned his or her claim and is liable to be deported. If they do file, they can get a legal aid lawyer, or an overworked paralegal, and hope for a hearing within about 18 months.
They are devastated by the uncertainty. It is difficult to get accurate numbers, but most agree that about 90 per cent of Hungarian Roma withdraw their claims, despite the fact that withdrawal can mean they have to pay their own way home.
Meanwhile, there are 50 to 60 new arrivals at Pearson airport every day. Hamilton Mayor Bob Bratina is proud that Hamilton has become home to so many Roma, saying “our city is one of the most accepting places in the country.”
“Most of the Roma I know,” he tells me, “have jobs already.” He is proud of his city’s renowned hospitality, its reasonable accommodation costs and his own instinctive understanding of Roma. As for current issues, the “biggest concern right now is for our Roma team to find a good soccer field.”
In Toronto, most of the refugee claimants end up in the Parkdale area. They are given welfare cheques, legal assistance and the chance to work. If, however, their paycheques are about the same as welfare, they lose the chance for legal aid, and their salaries are taxed by the employers — making their take-home pay less than welfare.
Jozsef and Timea’s IRB hearing was on Feb. 16, 2011. They were not successful. Jozsef tried to tell the judge he had seen terrible things while travelling to Roma areas with Viktoria Mohacsi, that he could not have endured another beating. He wanted the judge to see the Gyongyospata documentary but he felt the judge had already made up his mind.
Their application was rejected on March 19. The chief reason: Hungary is a democracy. Their appeal was turned down in August.
Jozsef still holds onto the hope that his “preremoval risk assessment application” to Canada’s Border Services will keep him safe. I am not so optimistic.
“Gypsies,” Vaclav Havel said, “are a litmus test of civil society.” Let’s see how we do in this regard.
According to the data available from the Association of Refugees and Displaced Persons, 15000 persons (including 12,000 Roma) should arrive in Subotica soon. The main problems facing them are the lack of education and proper health care.
A town on the border between Hungary and Serbia, Subotica has been dubbed “the gate to Europe”; also, its location on the Pannonian plane gained the city the title of ‘Pannonian beauty’in many songs and stories. A sizeable part of the Roma population in Serbia is gravitating around this city, due to its border position. This trend is not new and it was largely caused by the Subotica Market, a popular flea market.
Started by cash-strapped locals in the nineties, this trend has gained momentum, and since many of the people involved in the resale of goods at the flea market come from neighboring Hungary, a large part of the Roma population decided to sell fruits and vegetables instead, in the open market. After the war in Kosovo, the last wave of Roma refugees also settled in this town. The original intention of these citizens was to reach the EU, but a good portion of them settled in Subotica, together with family and friends.
It is difficult to determine the actual number of settlers, since many are not officially recorded. The upcoming census will hopefully give a clearer picture of this. To what extent is it possible to integrate the Roma living in Subotica? The success stories are rare, but fortunately they do exist. One of them is the employment of Roma for public works by the company Palic Ludaš during the tourist season in Palic. There are six people, originally from Kosovo and who have completed primary school, currently working for this company. All of them have welfare for the first time in their life, which would enable them to become more involved in their community, and help other young people in the long run. They are in charge of cutting trees, the maintanance of a large, local park and of the Palić natural park. It’s interesting, they say; to be part of “mixed groups” including non-Roma. They get along well with their colleagues from Palic, and even hang out together after work - said the Assistant Mayor and responsible for investments, Jasmin Šečić.
Let us remind the reader that the article 31 of the EU resolution on Serbia adopted in February 2011 says that 15000 refugees that should return as a result of the readmission agreements between Serbia and other EU countries. The same information available to the Association of Refugees and Displaced Persons states that 15000 persons should arrive in Subotica (including 12,000 Roma).
Based on the information available to our association, regarding the number of refugees from the territory of former Yugoslavia in 2009, we asked the city and the mayor, as the future chairman of readmission, to urgently make an action plan and form the Commission that was financed from EU funds so we could solve this problem in time and be prepared for this situation. We never got an answer although we contacted them several times, including through the media. “Still, all these (displaced) persons have Subotica as their last address in the travel documents - says Verica Grgurović from the ‘City of Subotica’ Association for refugees and displaced persons.
According to their data, all 120 municipalities in our country formed all the required Commissions, except for Subotica. There are 5465 displaced Roma persons from Kosovo in Subotica, and the information on them is solely obtained on the basis of humanitarian assistance received by our Association….Another important fact is that 58 municipalities in Serbia received ‘mentors’ for Roma issues, and I can’t be 100% sure whether our municipality is in one of those 58. Because of my participation as a member of the board in the Assembly of Serbia to reduce poverty, I have documentation regarding the resolution adopted on 9 March 2011 and the Strategy of Roma Inclusion to be discussed by the committee next April and I consider it important that the appeals and demands to the city of Subotica should become reality- that the necessary institutions should be organized and this vulnerable population be helped. The EU emphasized this as one of the most pressing issues faced by our country.
And apparently, one of the main problems is the lack of IDs…. In addition to that, another large problem is the elementary school education of children, inadequate housing and lack of basic living conditions. Our Association has data about the local Roma settlement “Zorka”, which offered extremely rough living conditions that we presented to the Commission for Refugees and to all relevant authorities once we became aware of them. Oncean action plan is outlined, it is necessary to form a committee, whose members would be representatives of police, the Centre for Social Welfare, Red Cross, our Association, Roma, Roma mentors, mayors and other relevant institutions that could contribute to its implementation. - says Verica Grgurović.
Subotica has numerous programs for the education of Roma; in spite of that, other problems remain: finding a job, obtaining health care and even accessing education. The example offered by the city-owned company “Palic Ludoš” is only a drop in the ocean when it comes to solving these problems. We wonder whether, by the time this text will be published, we’d get any feedback from the city of Subotica about the existence of a Commission charged of solving the problems of returnees, as well as Roma integration.