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June 15th, 1998

Eleven Czech Romanies returned home on Sunday after several months in Canadian exile. All of them, including a mother of five who was earlier reported to have been expelled by Canadian immigration authorities, told reporters at Prague International Airport that they were returning of their own accord, for private reasons. Radio Prague's Libor Kubik reports

The Romanies said they had emigrated for fear of racism in the Czech Republic and because they felt that their children were not safe in this country. All of them said they had homes to return to in the Moravian city of Brno.

Canada would have granted them the status of refugees, they said. Most of them maintained they were happy in Canada, but decided to return when they learned that their extended families would be denied entry, or allowed to join them. Also, they were homesick.

Roma activist Ondrej Gina can understand their motives:

"Their inability to cope with separation from their loved ones must have been a factor. We Romanies believe in strong family bonds and in the sense of belonging. That's why some of them are coming home today," Ondrej Gina told Czech Radio.

In the period from 1996 to last October, more than 1,000 Romanies from the Czech Republic emigrated to Canada and applied for a refugee status there. Only a few dozen applications have been processed to date. In these cases, the Canadian Immigration authorities recognised the applicants' fears of racism as substantiated.

A massive Roma emigration wave occurred last summer, after a private Czech TV station broadcast a feature portraying the life of Romanies in Canada in bright colours.

Last October, Canada re-imposed the visa requirement on all visitors from the Czech Republic.

According to a report in the Toronto Star daily, about 600 Czech asylum seekers have now returned home. However, it was not possible to confirm this figure from another source.

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