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Czech asylum claims "not a problem" says Canadian governor general in Prague
01-12-2008 - Rosie Johnston
Canadian Governor General Michaelle Jean met Czech President Václav Klaus on Monday, within her two-week Central European tour. In the scenic setting of Prague Castle’s Octagon Room, the governor general stressed that Canada maintained special ties with Czech Republic – ties which were not threatened by a recent jump in Czech asylum claims over the Atlantic.

Michaelle Jean, photo: CTK Czech–Canadian relations are as good as ever was the message from Prague Castle on Monday morning, when President Václav Klaus and Governor General Michaelle Jean met with the press. Halfway through a six-day state visit to the Czech Republic, the Canadian governor general called ties between Ottawa and Prague particularly special:

“Let me say that the relationship between Canada and the Czech Republic is a success story. Canada has opened its arms to many Czechs who were looking for a new land where they could have a better life at the end of the 19th century and entering the 20th century on many occasions, especially in the 1960s, at the end of the 1960s.”

But in recent months there has been speculation that a new wave of Czech migration to Canada has been causing friction between the two countries. Earlier this year the Toronto Star suggested that Canada was considering re-imposing visa restrictions for Czechs due to the high number of Czech Roma seeking asylum over the Atlantic. Ms Jean’s choice to visit this country’s Museum of Romany Culture on Saturday added to the rumours. But on Monday, Ms Jean quashed speculation:

Michaelle Jean and Václav Klaus, photo: CTK “We are citizens who come from around the world, including Czechs – there are 80,000 Canadians of Czech heritage. And we don’t see it as a problem. We see it as something that is rich, something that requires our attention and something that is also part of this very special relationship that our two countries have. There is not a problem.”

For his part, president Václav Klaus also sought to play down the friction that the rising number of Roma asylum claims has caused:

“Her Excellency the Canadian Governor outlined the conversation we had on this topic very well. And we did discuss this issue, because it is one which is of interest to the inhabitants of both of our countries. This problem has created a certain tension between our two countries, but I think that it is extremely positive that Madame Jean has stated here that this is not a big issue. And furthermore, she has made it clear that this shouldn’t be made into a big issue by people when it’s not.”

Over the next few days, Ms Jean will meet with other top officials such as Prime Minister Mirek Topolánek and Prague Mayor Pavel Bém. She will also visit the WWII memorial in Lidice.

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