Czechs should get ready for the possibility that they will need visas again when travelling to Canada, Canada’s Prime Minister Stephen Harper indicated in Prague last Wednesday. Exodus of Czech Roma has reached such dimensions that the Czech Republic started breaking the conditions for visa-free travel with the number of asylum applications. “If there is no improvement, the Canadian government will have to react in some way,” Harper said.
Some 653 Czech citizens have applied for asylum in Canada in the first quarter of the year. There were only 200 more applications for the whole of last year. For comparison: there have been eight and 12 asylum applications from Hungarians and Slovaks, respectively, since the beginning of the year. There are even more Czech applications than from Afghanistan or Iraq. Approximately one in seven applicants for asylum is successful. Some Canadian courts side with the opinions that the Roma face racism in the Czech Republic. “The jury has found out that the Roma are subject to systematic discrimination in the Czech Republic and the local government is not doing enough to solve the problem,” said the ruling of the Toronto administrative court that was deciding in the case of awarding asylum to a five-member Roma family on 1 May.
The outgoing Czech Prime Minister Mirek Topolánek says that the Roma are leaving from economic reasons and he wants to motivate them in a similar way to stay in the country. “The solution is connected with finding jobs,” Topolánek said.
What counts at the court
Also statements by Czech politicians have helped the Roma to get asylum. For example the current senator and former mayor of Mariánské Hory, Liliana Janáčková, has said on one a recording that she is against the integration of Roma.
The Toronto administrative court also based his ruling on a statement by the United Nations Human Rights Committee that says that Roma are discriminated against in almost every area of life. The court also points out extremist marches through Czech towns and placement of Roma children to special schools. Roma have almost no chance to find a job in the Czech Republic, according to the court.
Some time ago, also the prestigious British weekly The Economist paid attention to the Roma leaving the Czech Republic. It even made a parallel with the emigration from the Communist Czechoslovakia after the Soviet invasion in 1968 when Canada was a frequent destination of Czech emigrants. “The state of things in the Czech Republic is nothing the be proud of – not only the far-right extremism but also segregation is growing,” The Economist wrote.
Watch out for visas
The high number of Czech immigrants has made uncomfortable also the Canadian politicians. The Canadian Minister of Citizenship, Immigration and Multiculturalism, Jason Kenney, called on the Czech Republic for remedy of the situation. During his visit to the Czech Republic on Wednesday, the Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper even indicated that the Czech Republic might lose its visa-free relation with Canada. Also the Canadian Embassy used the same tone of voice when talking to HN. “The Canadian government would like to maintain the visa-free program with the Czech Republic. Countries that have visa-free relations with Canada are aware that if they do not fulfill conditions of the exemption from the visa program, the visa obligations may be reintroduced,” spokesman Michael Vlček said.
Roma choose Canada mainly because they have family relatives there who crossed the ocean 12 years ago during the first wave of Roma departures. “The relations are very important. Roma help each other with filing the applications,” said Ivan Veselý, the deputy chair of the Council of the Government for Roma Community Affairs.
Also George Kubes, a Canadian attorney who deals with processing of immigrant documentation, among other things, confirms this. Despite the growing number of Czech immigrants, his office does not have to deal with bigger workload than is usual. “I have about 300 families of Czech origin every year, when it comes to the arrival to Canada. Roma form only a fraction of the clients,” he said. Most of his Czech clients are driven to Canada by the economic situation.
The Canadian embassy also pointed out agencies that focus on bringing Roma to Canada. However, the embassy does not have any detailed information on the agencies and neither the Czech Ministry for Human Rights knows about them. The Minister Michael Kocáb wants to convince Roma not to leave for Canada.
“They will be leaving as long as they have the feeling they are not welcome in the Czech Republic,” Kocáb said.