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.”
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-22 (Joseph 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)