Refugee claims from Olympics ‘ridiculous’: minister

Posted by admin on Mar 2nd, 2010 News Staff, Date: Tue. Mar. 2 2010 6:55 PM ET

Seven people who came to Canada to watch the Vancouver Winter Olympics are now seeking refugee status, CTV News has learned, including claimants from Hungary, Russia and Japan. Immigration Minister Jason Kenney said it was “ridiculous” that anyone from Japan could claim to be a refugee and told CTV’s Power Play Tuesday that it was a sign that the system has broken down.

“Look, to get two claims from Japan? This is ridiculous. Japan is a liberal democratic country with full human rights protections,” he said. “You have to wonder what kind of a system we have that encourages people from a democracy like that to be saying that they’re victims of persecution and coming to Canada.”

Kenney could not comment on specific cases, but said four of the claimants are from Hungary, two are from Japan and one is from Russia.

The minister said Hungary is becoming a problem for the immigration and refugee system.

“It’s become our No. 1 source country for refugee claims: we’re getting several hundred a month,” he said.

“What’s really weird is that 97 per cent of the Hungarian refugee claimants to Canada are subsequently withdrawing their refugee claims … I haven’t got an answer to why that is happening.”

But Kenney suggested that it could be because refugee claimants are allowed to work in Canada, collect welfare and claim other social benefits even after they abandon their refugee claims.

“So I think people may be getting into Canada, making a claim, getting benefits or a work permit, and then for whatever reason they decide I guess that they don’t have a legitimate claim and that’s why they withdraw it or don’t pursue it.”

He said he found it difficult to believe that genuine refugees could come from Hungary, even from the country’s Roma minority.

“Hungary is a member of the European Union, it’s a democratic country in full compliance with human rights laws. While there are challenges for people there, there’s no evidence of state persecution.”

Richard Kurland, a lawyer specializing in immigration matters, said allowing failed or abandoned refugee claimants to continue collecting welfare or other benefits is “simply bizarre.”

“It looks like someone propped the door open with a brick. These numbers clearly show that there’s an element of abuse of Canada’s generosity,” he said. “Something else is going on other than a genuine refugee claim.”

He said the vast majority of the Hungarian refugee claimants are from the Roma community and are primarily interested in coming to Canada for free health care, education and other social services.

If they were really facing persecution, Kurland said they could much more easily travel to another European Union country.

Visitors from Hungary do not require a visa to enter Canada and Kenney said the government would prefer to keep it that way. But he said changes to the refugee determination system are on their way.

“Part of the lesson here is that we need to fix our refugee system,” he said. “I think it’s a pretty obvious signal to people when they can come to Canada, make a claim, get welfare benefits, get a work permit and stay here sometimes for years … It’s a backdoor to immigration, which is unfair to all the other legal immigrants waiting to come to Canada.”

“This is a very serious problem and we need to address it.”

It’s not unusual for people attending international sporting events in Canada to make refugee claims.

A man believed to be a Romanian coach claimed refugee status during the 1988 Calgary Games, and Olympian wrestler Daniel Igali claimed asylum here after competing at the 1994 Commonwealth Games in Victoria, B.C.

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