Czech asylum bids watched in Ottawa
Spike in applications, mostly by Roma, since visa requirement ended
Mar 19, 2008 04:30 AM
Canada has seen a rising number of Roma asylum seekers since lifting its visa requirement for Czech Republic visitors five months ago – and more are expected now that four other eastern European countries have been given the same exemption.
This month, Canada extended visa exemptions to Hungary, Poland, Slovakia and Lithuania. All but the latter are populated by ethnic Roma, known colloquially as gypsies, who continue to face discrimination and social isolation in eastern Europe.
The European Union has been pressuring Canada to open its border to all 27 member states, eliminating barriers that especially involve eastern Europe.
Immigration Minister Diane Finley dropped the visa requirement for the Czech Republic as of Nov. 1.
Since then, claims for asylum by Czech visitors, in most cases Roma, shot up to 83 by the end of December, from zero the previous year. This past January, 45 more claims were entered.
There are concerns this could lead to a repeat of the 1996 influx of an estimated 4,000 Czech Roma into Canada after travel restrictions were eliminated. The majority were granted refugee status, but not before Canada reinstated a visa requirement.
This time, the Canadian government has made it known unofficially that should the number of Czech refugee claimants leap to 580 this year (or 2 per cent of all such claims Canada expects to process), it will restore the visa requirement.
If you want to make a refugee claim everyone in the world knows that Canada is the place to do it.