Soukie's Place

keeping track of random thoughts

O Canada!

Canadian flag with a Czech passport

When commenting on the new visa requirement for Czech citizens, Canadian Immigration Minister Jason Kenney said: “It’s not a pleasant thing to do, but it’s absolutely necessary to protect the integrity of our immigration system and our laws.”

Kenney’s comment was related to some 3,000 asylum claims filed by Roma minority members from the Czech Republic which lead Canada to introduce the visa restriction effective of July 14, 2009. I will go on to argue that the Canadian immigration system is broken, and therefore should not be “protected,” as Mr Kenney claims, but changed.

Granted, the issue of Roma minority in the Czech Republic is very complex, and it is possible that the situation deteriorated somewhat during the six months I have lived abroad. Therefore the picture I am trying to piece from the various news reports might not be entirely accurate.

Roma refugees quoted in articles complain of hostilities from the right-wing extremists: “Ninety percent of us have been attacked, including me, my brother, my cousins. Everyone’s experienced physical attacks.” The Roma also point to the high unemployment rate compared to white people, which is a verifiable fact. On the other hand, there is Roman Kryštof, a former head of the Czech government’s Roma Affairs Commission, who says that while there was an increase in anti-Roma demonstrations and statements, “to our knowledge in much more numerous cases they just used the asylum system to start a better life.”

Should Canada worry about the state of human rights in EU?

The claims of widespread attacks are difficult to take seriously but some isolated incidents prove that extremism in the Czech Republic does exist. The economically motivated “refugees” version is compelling and creates a Catch-22 type of situation: If you try to qualify for a refugee status, you might be after the money which is undermining your credibility in terms of presenting yourself as a refugee. Who can you believe? Luckily, the Czech Republic is a member of the European Union. EU citizens can freely move to other EU countries, and call on EU institutions to make sure the justice is served impartially.

This changes the situation dramatically. It is equivalent to amending the original Catch-22Joseph Heller’s Catch-22 describes a set of rules that are mutually exclusive: To avoid flying dangerous war missions, you need to ask for an evaluation of your sanity and be found insane. But anyone who asks for the evaluation to avoid the deadly missions is clearly sane, and can fly. with “and you also don’t have to fly if you don’t want to.” No Czech person (white or Roma) needs an asylum in Canada, just like the pilots in Heller’s Catch-22 would not need an evaluation that they are insane with the extra provision.

Fen Hampson, director of the Norman Paterson School of International Affairs in Ottawa, went on to say that “The Czech Republic has become a major exporter of Roma refugees to North America. These people, when they get here, do create a burden on social services.” While the second sentence is true, the first is misleading. The fact is that it is Canada who is the leading country in the world in terms of admitted refugees, which is a direct result of their lax immigration laws and policies. The Czech Republic has no interest in exporting its citizens to Canada or anywhere else.

I would propose a solution whereby Canada should actually start denying refugee claims to anyone from the Czech Republic, and cancel the newly introduced visa requirement. Does Canada grant refugee status to U.S. citizens? (Maybe yes, but I doubt it.) If not, what exactly is the difference between the U.S. and the Czech Republic (or even Canada for that matter) in terms of their level of democracy, and of their minorities enjoying equal protection and status?

Requiring Czechs to have a visa is not the cure for the flawed immigration system. Canada should not waste time and money on European Union citizens who might seek to misuse the refugee status for economic gains. Instead, they could concentrate on helping true refugees from countries such as Somalia, Afghanistan and Sri Lanka who, by the way, probably aren’t fortunate enough to afford an airplane ticket to Canada.

After completing the article, I found the following opinion of Julie Taub, an Ottawa immigration lawyer and a former member of the Immigration and Refugee Board:

“The Immigration and Refugee Act … is fraught with loopholes and lax rules that encourage fraud, pose security threats to Canada and facilitate illegal immigration while creating roadblocks to legitimate refugee claimants and immigrants…

“In the case of Czechs, citizens of any European Union country have the right to live and work in any of the other 26 countries. Therefore there is no justification for any EU citizen to make a refugee claim in Canada…

“The logical step would be … to create a list of safe countries whose citizens would not be entitled to make refugee claims. That list should include at least all EU countries, Switzerland, the United States, Australia, … and other established democracies with acceptable human-rights records.” (Emphasis mine)


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Josef, August 17, 2009:

I am a Czech citizen living in Canada. The problem with Roma people goes way back. For centuries they were living like nomads, moving from one place to another. That was their way of life. But during communism, they were forced to settle. The communists didn’t want them to move around. They were given education (at that time, they didn’t even know how to write) and free appartments to live in. Unfortunatelly, they always demolated them and then complained that they needed new ones. After the fall of communism in 1989 it got more difficult because nothing was for free anymore. Despite of this the Roma people still got new appartments for free and Non-Romas had to pay for them. But they aren’t able to maintain them. They don’t want to pay for hydro or heating. They rather remove all the hard floor and just burn it in the middle of the room to make heat. They burn all the furniture. They pull out all the radiators in the rooms and sell them. They throw all barbage out the window. Who’d want to live in a neighbourhood with people like that?
Of course there is more unemployed Romas than Non-Romas. Bucause Non-Romas are willing to work! Besides, Romas are not depandable, they like to drink, steal and fight. They stroll in groups only. They steal during the day. There are many people who will confirm what I say. And more.
Romas don’t want to work. They just look for a way to “milk” the system. It is normal for a Roma couple to have 5 or 6 kids, even more. Because they get more child support from the government.
Now, they found out that if they come to Canada they can make even more money for doing nothing. They get a free appartment, each $1,300.- a month, free food, free health care. Now, imagine how much they get if it is a 5 member family. It’s more than an average person makes. And an average person has been living in Canada for his/her whole life, paying taxes…
That’s not all. After 2 or 3 years of doing nothing and getting paid for it, they will get deported (because the Canadian refugee system must realize that they are just playing it), they will go back to Czech and they will claim retroactively all the welfare benefits for the 2 or 3 years they didn’t get from the Czech government. It’s already happening.
In my over 30 years of living (25 in Czech republic) I can honestly say that maybe 2 Romas out of a hundred are decent human beings. And I am an optimist!
I really hope that the Canadian government will realize what’s happening here. Now if my friends or my family want to visit me, they might not be able to, which is really unfair. Many people are in similar situation. Czech republic is a democratic country, there shouldn’t be any refugees applications accepted by Canadian immigration. It’s not Afghanistan…

gabriel, August 18, 2009:

Mister Soukenik,

You did not argue that the Canadian immigration system is broken, you considered critics of its refugee branch. The canadian immigration system is more than the refugee status it grants, and proves to be one of the most efficient in the World. Minorities’ social and economic integration, in Canada, is not hindered by xenophobia as it is the case in many european countries. In fact France has recently decided to emulate the canadian model.

Also, Yes, Canada can grant refugee status to Americans. No, you can’t compare the US to the Czech Republic, I know both countries for having lived there, and the US has a longer experience in dealing with issues of minorities and clear affirmative action initiatives. Only with the prospect of EU integration was the Czech Republic forced to guarantee equal rights to the Roma minority.

Maybe the visa requirement will be a wake-up call for the Czech government to insure the welfare and blossoming of its minorities.

Pavel Soukenik, August 19, 2009:

Thank you for providing the counterpoint, Gabriel. You are correct that my criticism is aimed at the refugee branch. I also agree about the xenophobia, and would add there is a kind of denial of the race attitude issue (‘I don’t like them because they are XYZ, not because they are gypsies’).

But Roma did have equal rights ever since Czechoslovakia started as an independent republic in 1918; something you cannot say about the US where voting rights and segregation had not been addressed until the 60s. So I find the claim ‘Only with the prospect … was … forced to guarantee equal rights’ misleading.

Also, I do recognize the government and NGOs in the Czech Republic have a lot of work to do (as is the case with UK, France, and US).

Gabriel, August 21, 2009:

Hello Pavel,

Thank you for the precisions. You make a good point about the comparaison with the US.


Jitka, August 21, 2009:

I totally agree with what Josef said.

Sean, August 23, 2009:

You are correct. The visa issues is another thing though. The “refugees” can fly here stay with relatives or say they are visiting then stay here and claim refugee status that is why we need visa requirements not only for the czech’s but also for the mexican’s and a few others. The first commentor tells how the Roma citizens act within the czech society. That may only be a portion of them. Also why would we want people who don’t want to work and want to live off the system coming to Canada?!!!! We want people that are going to be productive members and contributing members to our society. Let the Czech Republic deal with their own issues. As mentioned before the Roma citizens can apply to live in another EU Country if they feel they need to!!!!

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