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Canada warns Hungarian Roma not to seek asylum

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A billboard in Miskolc, Hungary, announces changes to Canada’s immigration policies.

UPDATE – Canada is taking a proactive role in dissuading Hungarian and Roma asylum-seekers from choosing it as a place of refuge.

A month-long $13,000 billboard, bus-shelter and radio ad campaign by the Canadian embassy in Budapest targeting the industrial city of Miskolc – home to the largest Roma population in Hungary – is advising would-be applicants to Canada that the immigration system here has changed and they best be aware of the fact.

The announcements, which began on Jan. 16, read as follows:

“An announcement from the Government of Canada. To deter abuse, Canada’s refugee system has changed. People with unfounded claims will be sent home faster. Learn more: www.cic.gc.ca/change.”

(Translated from Hungarian. See above photo.)

Jason Kenney, Canada’s minister of citizenship, immigration and multiculturalism, has long proclaimed that Hungarian Roma have been abusing Canada’s immigration system for years.

In 2008, after visa restrictions were lifted, a new wave of Hungarian Roma began seeking refuge in Canada.

In early 2012, Kenney characterized most of the Roma claims as “bogus” and pushed for immigration reform after a spike in Hungarian asylum seekers in 2011.

According to the ministry, Hungary was Canada’s No. 1 source country for asylum claims in 2011, with more than 4,400 applicants.

Canada’s immigration laws changed in 2012 with the passage of the Bill C-31, the Protecting Canada’s Immigration System Act.

(The CJN reported on these changes and the Roma responses in December. You can read those stories here and here.)

Hungary was put on the government’s designated country of origin list (DCO) late last year. Canada considers DCO-designated states to be democratic and as having institutions and laws to assist and provide protection for minorities.

Alexis Pavelich, press secretary for Kenney, said in an email that Canada continues to “take pride in the compassion” of its asylum system.

“We continue to resettle more genuine refugees than almost any other country in the world. In fact, our government is increasing the number of refugees Canada resettles by 20 per cent,” Pavelich wrote. “But Canadians have no tolerance for those who abuse our system and seek to take unfair advantage of our country at great expense to taxpayers.

“To date, less than $3,000 has been spent on this public awareness campaign. A total of $13,000 has been budgeted, but a total cost will not be known until the campaign is completed. This cost is significantly less than the average of $30,000 it costs Canadian taxpayers per bogus asylum claim. Accordingly, every single unfounded claim that we can prevent from being made as a result of this public notice returns real savings for hard-working taxpayers.”

The Canadian Roma community took exception to the government’s campaign in Hungary last week, saying it was motivated by stereotypes and racism and did not take into account the reasons Roma want to flee the EU-member state.

Panning the government’s information campaign, Gina Csanyi-Robah, executive director of Toronto’s Roma Community Centre and chief spokesperson of the Canadian Roma community, accused the government of condoning continuing human rights abuses by far-right Hungarian nationalists against her people.

Listing Hungary as a DCO doesn’t take into account the rising xenophobia and antisemitism taking hold there, she said.

Members of the nationalist Hungarian opposition Jobbik party have recently made overt statements against Roma and Jews, while its paramilitary offshoots have gone on marches to verbally and physically attack both Roma and Jews in recent years.

“What the Canadian government continues to do in Hungary in its efforts to discourage Roma to seek asylum in Canada is absolutely wrong,” Csanyi-Robah said. “It… encourages the continued shaming and hatred directed at the [Roma] community for ‘ruining Hungary's good name’ and is genuinely interfering into the refugee asylum process by making Canada appear as a country to not seek safety in. When will this barrage of insulting, unjust behaviour ever end? When in our history as a country has the Canadian government ever engaged in such activities?”

Kenney’s office noted that in 2009, it engaged in “a similar public notice campaign” for residents of Mexico and the Czech Republic.

In February and March 2011 the ministry also ran a four-week anti-fraud campaign both domestically and abroad “against crooked immigration consultants and marriage fraud.” It featured TV and Internet ads, announcements in Canadian airports and on flights, and ads in “mainstream and ethnic print” media targeting potential immigrants from the Philippines, India, and China, Citizenship and Immigration Canada said.

In a Jan. 16 story on hvg.hu – Hungary’s leading online economic and political magazine – Miskolc Mayor Kriza Ákos was quoted saying he was “outraged” at Canada’s campaign and that his city would forbid any Roma refugees returned by Canada from finding housing or apartments if they had sold or given up their homes in order to seek asylum.

Akos said he’s asked the Canadian embassy why his city was targeted for the campaign, but has not received a satisfactory answer.

The ministry told The CJN it focused its messaging on Miskolc because it “has been the No. 1 source area in Hungary for asylum claims in Canada.”

***

In related news, on Jan. 28, the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) ruled that Hungary has violated the European Convention on Human Rights by segregating Roma schoolchildren into special needs schools without grounds.

According to the Budapest-based European Roma Rights Centre and Csanyi-Robah, the ECHR found the Hungarian government guilty of using a rigged testing system to segregate Roma children into a remedial school system.

The court noted that psychological tests conducted on Roma children were at best culturally biased, if not deliberately discriminatory. The judgment condemns the “prejudicial effect on the Roma community” of these tests and the segregation they allow, stating that victims themselves and the Roma community have suffered “discriminatory treatment” at the hands of the government.

The decision “adds to a canon of official literature that evidences systematic discrimination and persecution,” Csanyi-Robah said.

A 2011 United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees Canada report detailed cases of forced sterilization of Roma women in Hungary, the Czech Republic and Slovakia between 2000 and 2011 and called for increased state accountability in honouring the UN Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racism Against Women.

There are also pending court cases across eastern Europe regarding alleged forced sterilization of Roma women as individuals begin speaking out on the sensitive subject.

“The irony is that, as Roma, Jews, and other minority groups in Hungary experience escalating hate and persecution in Hungary – including segregation, violence, and intimidation – the Canadian government is using taxpayer money to finance a campaign to discourage these same groups from seeking protection from the Canadian government,” Csanyi-Robah said.

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