Czech Republic's Roma community have other options besides filing refugee claims in Canada
Globe and Mail, July 7, 2009
From Saturday's Globe and Mail
Last updated on Tuesday, Jul. 07, 2009 07:34AM EDT
Canada should, as is rumoured, move to reimpose visa requirements on the Czech Republic to stop a rash of refugee claims from that country's Roma. The Czech Republic is a member of the European Union. Consequently, Czech citizens – Roma included – enjoy some of the best human-rights protections in the world. There are no impediments to travel to other EU states. Escape to Canada is not required, and such claims represent an abuse of Canada's refugee system, straining resources that should be reserved for legitimate refugees.
There is no doubt discrimination exists against the Roma within the Czech Republic. However, the Czech constitution prohibits discrimination on the basis of national, racial or ethnic background, and the country is in compliance with EU human-rights laws. A report by Canada's Immigration and Refugee Board recently described instances where government agencies were, in fact, trying to integrate members of the Roma community.
The report did relate statements from observers that the Roma believe local police retain “discriminatory” or “disrespectful” views and, as a result, don't take their complaints seriously. But this is an issue that the Czech Republic needs to address, and not one that requires asylum in Canada. As Immigration Minister Jason Kenney correctly puts it, there “is no policy of state-sponsored persecution against Czech Roma.”
Czech media reports suggest Canada has given notice that this country intends to reimpose visa requirements on Czechs who travel to Canada.
Such a move is necessary, although it must pain Mr. Kenney, who successfully argued previously that visa requirements be lifted from several Eastern European states, including the Czech Republic.
Visas are a blunt instrument to be used against a friendly country, especially when the real problem lies with Canada's refugee system, which is vulnerable to abuse.
A similar situation exists with Mexico, which is now the leading source country for refugee claims in Canada. Reform is called for. But until then, the federal government ought to adopt visa requirements for these two countries, to protect the integrity of its refugee system and focus on those who really need Canada's help.