Toronto - Canadian media server Canwest News Service reported Tuesday that the Canadian Immigration Minister Jason Kenney called on Wednesday on the Czech government to "crack down on unscrupulous operators believed to be behind a massive surge" in the number of Roma refugee claimants.
The visa free sent Czechs of mostly Romani ethnic background across the ocean to seek asylum in 2007 when the Canadian government lifted the visa requirement for the Czech nationals.
A year later Canada noted increased numbers of Czech asylum seekers landing at the Canadian airports. While in 2007 it was only 78 applicants, in 2008 it was 853, which is a 993 percent increase. That makes the Czech Republic the seventh highest source of refugees in Canada, ahead of war-and violence-stricken countries such as Iraq, Afghanistan, and Somalia.
The top source refugee country in 2008 was Mexico with 8,069 applicants. It was followed by Haiti (4,936), Colombia (3,132) and China (1,711).
"We would like to maintain our visa exemption with the Czech Republic. At the same time, we are obviously concerned about the numbers of false refugee claimants," Minister Jason Kenney told Canwest News Service, adding the "Czech Republic must comply with human-rights requirements as a member of the European Union".
According to the Canwest, the Czech asylum seekers have so far had a 40 per cent success rate, with 84 claims being accepted last year, compared to five that were rejected, 11 abandoned, and 95 claims withdrawn.
It comes as a surprise, though, that Canada lifted a visa requirement for other eastern European countries but has not noted such a "refugee spike". There are sizeable Roma minorities in Slovakia and Hungary.
Canwest News Service further reports that the Roma "face systemic discrimination and racist attacks from far-right groups, according to numerous human-rights reports".
Neo-Nazi and skinhead marches into Roma ghettos have been frequent in the past year. The most violent one took place in Litvínov where radicals protested against the local Roma community.
The far-rights sympathesires wanting to march through the Litvínov Roma ghetto clashed with police and fifteen people on both sides were injured. It was dubbed the violent Czech rally since the 2000 protests against an IMF summit in Prague.
Critics, however, question whether their situation fits the United Nations definition of persecuted refugees.
Canada's Immigration and Refugee Board, an independent tribunal that assesses refugee claims, sent a fact-finding mission to the Czech Republic last month to help the board assess living conditions for Roma.
The matter represents one of the touchiest bilateral issues to be discussed when Prime Minister Stephen Harper meets with Czech leaders in Prague on May 6 for the Canada-European Union summit.
autor: Naďa Straková