Canada must take Roma cases seriously: Groups

Posted by admin on May 5th, 2009

By Peter O’Neil, Europe Correspondent, Canwest News Service. May 5, 2009 

AFPPRAGUE — Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s government is interfering with the rights of Roma legitimately fleeing persecution in the Czech Republic, according to a coalition of human rights groups. The letter has been made public as Harper prepares to meet here Wednesday with European Union and Czech officials to launch Canada-EU free trade negotiations and to discuss the recent surge in Czech Roma refugee claims in Canada. The rights groups were responding to comments from Immigration Minister Jason Kenney, who said last month he wants Prague to “crack down” on “unscrupulous operators” encouraging citizens to fly to Canada and claim asylum on the basis of persecution.

He cast doubt on the legitimacy of the claims, even though Canada’s independent Immigration and Refugee Board accepted 84 refugee claims from the Czech Republic last year, compared to five that were rejected, 11 abandoned and 95 that were withdrawn.

“Although like every other democracy it has its challenges and its shortcomings, it’s hard to believe that the Czech Republic is an island of persecution in Europe,” Kenney told Canwest News Service in a statement widely circulated in the Czech media.

The letter cited a Federal Court of Canada case which “deemed illegal the actions of the Canadian government in attempting to influence asylum proceedings.”

It then outlined accusations over many years by human rights groups such as Amnesty International that Czech Roma, in addition to being subjected to periodic neo-Nazi violence, face systemic discrimination in housing, education, health care and employment.

The letter called on Harper to encourage the Czech government at his meeting Wednesday to take various measures to end discrimination, including the passing of a long-delayed anti-discrimination law that is required by the European Union.

“Your actions in working with the Czech government to assist in ensuring that these and similarly needed measures are adopted would be most welcome. Such actions would send an important signal to the Czech government that Canada takes seriously the need to protect Roma from persecution and to foster the social inclusion of Roma in all countries where Roma live,” stated the signatories, including Toronto’s Roma Community Centre, the European Roma Rights Centre, and the Romani Archives and Documentation Center at the University of Texas in Austin.

“By contrast, your current efforts to encourage the Czech government to prevent persons who may be refugees from leaving the country — and thereby possibly violate international human rights law — send a different signal entirely.”

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