Editor’s note: On October 21, Canadian newspaper The Globe and Mail ran an editorial that supports the investigation of Roma refugee claimants from Hungary on the grounds that many refugee claims are withdrawn or abandoned. It was written in response to a recently publicized Canadian Border Services Agency memo outlining the racial profiling of Roma refugee claimants. In an argument that critics say undermines the real basis for refugee claims and implies wrongdoing on the part of Roma refugees, the editorial urges the EU to correct anti-Roma discrimination. Below are two complete letters sent to the editor. The Globe did not print either letter in full.
[letter to the Globe in response to Oct 21 editorial, ‘If EU did more for Roma, they wouldn’t seek asylum in Canada’]
That the EU improves its treatment of Roma citizens is a necessary but insufficient solution to the problem of Roma refugees. It is also necessary to understand a few other things.
First, the guidelines for the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) state that discrimination can be considered persecution if it is repeated, if it is knowingly tolerated by the authorities, or if authorities refuse or prove unable to offer effective protection from it.
Next, that so many Roma withdraw is evidence of “something amiss” should not imply criminality of the kind described in the Canadian Border Security Association (CBSA). Claimants withdraw because they can no longer live with the uncertainty of when they will be deported, separated from their families, living in shelters, unemployed, dependent upon food banks, and now with the sudden dismantlement of the Federal Interim Health Program, without health services. They are not responsible for the fact that their withdrawals are central to our government’s calculation of the ‘safety’ of a country on the Designated Countries of Origin list.
Third, the CBSA report noted that over a 2-year period (2010 and 2011), a total of 187 Hungarian Roma refugee claimants were incarcerated on various (mostly minor) charges in Canada. The report concludes that this proves that there is “significant criminal activity amongst this group.” Is this 3% of the 2010-2011Roma claimant group a greater threat to public safety than other refugee groups? What percentage of native-born Canadians engage in such activities without being labeled a significant risk?
Fourth, the assumption that if Roma are persecuted in one EU country, they can move elsewhere is erroneous. EU member states do not recognize refugees internal to the EU, and to assume that things are better for the Roma in France, Germany, or Italy can be disproven by any news search on the issue. Last point: evoking the “integrity” of the system is policy-speak for justifying the legal and political instruments aimed at keeping out these asylum-seekers. Do we want to be complicit with the EU’s exclusion of the Roma?
Your editorial on EU treatment of Roma (Oct. 21) neglected to mention the well-documented rise of the extreme-right in Hungary. According to extremist-group monitor Athena Institute, Hungary is home to fourteen active hate groups (including the neo-Nazi ‘Blood and Honour’ and the anti-Jewish, anti-Roma Kuruc), all intent upon continuing the Nazi project. (Eighty percent of the European Roma population died in Nazi gas chambers.)
The Jobbik Party, with 47 seats in the Hungarian Parliament, and 3 seats in the European Parliament, is militantly anti-Roma and anti-Semitic. In March, 2011, Jobbik’s paramilitary wing, For a Better Future Civil Guard (an offshoot of the dreaded Magyar Garda), occupied and terrorized a Romani neighbourhood in Gyongospata. Subsequently 67 families left for Canada, and a member of Jobbik was elected mayor.
This past summer saw large anti-Roma demonstrations lead by paramilitary groups such as Civil Guard and 64 Counties Group, where cement blocks were thrown into Roma houses in Devecser. Outlaw Army member Zsolt Tyirityan said that “the Gypsy is genetically-coded for criminality”, echoing Nazi descriptors of Roma during the WW II era.
Roma human rights activists and now ordinary citizens who have been threatened by neo-Nazis have come to Canada for legitimate reasons. However, as your editorial states, the Hungarian government must redress the inequitable access to housing, education, employment and health care, as well as dealing with the extreme-right groups that currently target Roma.
Lynn Hutchinson Lee
Roma Community Centre, Toronto