New Mexico and Czech visa rules block genuine claims, critics argue

Posted by admin on Jul 14th, 2009

July 13, 2009, Lesley Ciarula Taylor, Nicholas Keung, Toronto Star

Canada’s introduction of visas for travellers from Mexico and the Czech Republic “shuts the door against genuine refugee claims and tarnishes our reputation,” said Toronto immigration lawyer Max Berger, who has represented 400 Czech Roma refugee cases last year and this. He described a Roma woman who came to Canada; she had had two swastikas carved into her chest by skinheads. “If that isn’t convincing enough, I don’t know what is.”

He admitted there can be a “herd mentality” among refugees after they hear a certain country is tolerant.

Berger said people desperate for sanctuary are resourceful and Czech Roma now might find their way to Canada through the visa-free U.S.

Peter Showler, director of the Refugee Forum at the University of Ottawa, condemned Immigration Minister Jason Kenney for playing politics with people’s lives.

“The Minister says the visa restrictions will allow the government to process genuine claims faster,” he said. “His clear implication is that the Roma claims are not genuine.”

He added that “by repeatedly sniping at their acceptance of Roma refugees, the minister is not only undermining Immigration and Refugee Board members, he is blatantly stepping over a line that previous ministers, both Liberal and Conservative, have previously respected. We are seeing an unprecedented politicization of the refugee claim process.”

The situation in Mexico is much different, Showler said.

“Canada will be able to significantly reduce the flow of refugee claims from Mexico,” only 11 per cent of which were accepted last year.

“They will also, however, significantly obstruct the travel of legitimate visitors from a NAFTA trading partner. Lastly, they will also prevent desperate and legitimate Mexican refugees from seeking protection. Since the United States grants refugee protection to virtually no Mexican claimants, genuine refugees will be forced to remain illegally in the United States or be smuggled into Canada so that they can make a refugee claim inside Canada in order to avoid the Safe Third Country Agreement.”

The agreement allows refugees who come from a third country, most likely the U.S., to be turned back.

The Mexican embassy said third-party groups and organizations purporting to help Mexicans get into Canada were to blame for Canada’s decision.

Richard Krpac, the consul general in Toronto for the Czech Republic, said that several thousand Czech tourists are heading to Canada in the coming weeks.

Those tourists will not likely change their plans, he said. But future tourists may avoid Canada and go the U.S. instead, where there are no visa hassles.

Last year, trade between the two countries reached nearly $750 million (U.S.), he added.

The sudden visa requirement means two east-end Toronto children are stranded in Prague, their angry father, Mike Daley, said Monday night.

Their aunt, who was going to fly with them, now needs to get to Vienna to get a visa.

“No one knows how long it will take to get one,” Daley said

The children, age 4 and 8, were scheduled to fly back to Canada with his sister-in-law on Thursday, a few hours after 48-hour grace period expires. Daley couldn’t find an airline to bring the three to Toronto earlier.

The Daley family went to Prague a month ago. The children stayed to visit their maternal grandparents.

“How do you issue visa restrictions and give a deadline of 48 hours?” an angry Daley said. “That’s so stupid.”

Janet Dench of the Canadian Council for Refugees said the visa requirement amounts to closing the doors on refugees trying to escape persecution.

“Instead of engaging the Czech Republic and Mexico to do more on respecting the rights of their citizens, Canada is undermining the legitimacy of those who flee for protection,” Dench said.

With files from Raveena Aulakh

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