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Alarm as Canada receives more refugees from Czech Rep than Iraq, Afghanistan
16-04-2009 - Rob Cameron
Canada has expressed concern about rising numbers of asylum seekers from the Czech Republic, most of them believed to members of the Roma or gypsy minority. There’s recently been a huge jump in asylum applications - in fact last year there were more refugees from the Czech Republic than Iraq or Afghanistan. So are the claims justified, and what is Canada planning to do about it?

The Canwest News Service, quoting official Canadian government statistics, says 853 Czech citizens sought protection from persecution in Canada in 2008, up a staggering 993% from 2007. The Czech Republic – an EU member with firmly established democratic institutions – ranks not far behind countries such as China, Columbia and Haiti, and ahead of Iraq, Afghanistan and Somalia in terms of the number of asylum applications.

So are the asylum claims justified? The Canwest News Service reported that forty percent of asylum requests handled last year were granted, meaning Czech claimants are meeting Canada’s stipulation of granting asylum to people with a “well-founded fear of persecution” in their home country.

Canada says it believes unscrupulous operators are partly behind the influx. However Michal Miko, a Roma advisor to the Czech government, says in his opinion this is simply not true.

Michal Miko “I don’t think criminal gangs are behind it. People here in the Czech Republic live in freedom, but Romanies cannot find freedom in the country where they were born. It’s normal for people to leave their home country if they do not feel free.”

And that’s how you would describe the atmosphere in the Czech Republic for Roma people – as not free?

“Yes. Look at what’s happened in the last few weeks, in Litvínov, in Přerov, and what will happen this weekend in Ústí nad Labem, that skinheads are allowed to walk through the streets and shout the same thing – that the Czech Republic is only for Czechs.”

So in other words you think when Romanies see skinheads marching on TV, that’s one more reason to leave?

“Yes, because they are afraid for their families.”

So this fear is real.

“Yes.”

It’s not just economic reasons, as some people say?

“I don’t think so, because I have a lot of friends who had good job opportunities here in the Czech Republic, but they left because they were afraid for their security.”

The Czech Foreign Ministry said in a statement there was no reason to consider Czech asylum-seekers as refugees, and that they were in constant contact with the Canadian authorities to resolve the problem.

Canada, meanwhile, insists it has no plans to reimpose visas on Czech citizens as it was forced to do in the late 1990s, shortly after lifting them, due to an influx of Roma asylum seekers. Prague will host an EU-Canada summit on May 6th, and certainly the issue is likely to be top of the agenda of bilateral talks.



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