Is Canada telling Hungary’s Roma ‘Do not seek asylum here’?

Canadian FlagCanada has long had an international reputation of welcoming refugees from around the world. But now it’s telling Hungary’s Roma community that that doesn’t apply to them.

The Canadian government is spending approximately $13,000 on an information campaign, including billboards, notices in bus shelters, newspapers, and on radio spots in the Hungarian city of Miskolc, to dissuade would-be Roma asylum-seekers from coming to Canada.

The campaign began on Jan. 15 and, according to a spokesperson for Citizenship and Immigration Canada, is to last one month.

0124-oroma_full_238The billboards read, “An announcement from the Government of Canada: To deter abuse, Canada’s refugee system has changed. Asylum claims are evaluated within weeks instead of years. Applicants with unjustified immigration claims are sent home faster.”

HungaryMiskolc, in the northeast of the country, is the second-biggest city in Hungary after Budapest, and the locale from which a majority of Roma claimants to Canada come from – as many as 40 percent in 2011, according to Citizenship and Immigration Canada spokesperson Paul Northcott – while Canada accounted for 98 percent of Hungarian refugee claims worldwide in 2011.

Hungary’s Roma community has been subject to ongoing abuse in recent years. A 2010 US State Department report on the human rights situation within Hungary cited several instances where Roma rights were apparently violated in and around Miskolc, including the mistreatment of prisoners, police abuses of Roma suspects, and the segregation of Roma schoolchildren.

Supporters of the Hungarian far right Jobbik party gather front of Avas apartment block during their demonstration in Miskolc
Supporters of the Hungarian far right Jobbik party gather front of Avas apartment block during their demonstration in Miskolc

Miskolc has also seen demonstrations by the far-right Jobbik Party and paramilitary groups against the Roma, and is near where a group of alleged anti-Roma serial killers were active. The trial was postponed earlier this week while defense counsel is replaced.

Stephen Harper
Stephen Harper

The campaign appears to be part of the larger overhaul of the Canadian immigration system implemented by Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s government in recent months. The Harper government passed sweeping and controversial changes to the immigration and refugee process here in December. At the time, it hinted at this new move by suggesting that “bogus refugees” would no longer be able to take advantage of Canadian’s generosity – statements widely held to have been directed at Roma coming to Canada.

A main focus of Immigration Minister Jason Kenney’s message track in introducing the changes to the law has been the mass migration of Hungarian Roma to Canada since 2008, the year the visa requirement for the EU country was dropped.  According to the Roma Community Centre in Toronto’s west end, more than 400 Roma families have been granted asylum in Canada by the Immigration and Refugee Board (IRB) since 2008.


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