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Canadian visas no longer imminent after EU raises threat of retaliation
13-07-2009  Rob Cameron

There’s light at the end of the tunnel for Czech diplomats battling to prevent Canada from reimposing visas for Czech citizens in response to the large numbers of Roma asylum seekers arriving in the country. According to the Czech foreign minister, talks with the president of the European Commission have spooked Canada into thinking twice, and visas now look less likely – although still possible.

The sense of nervousness coming from Czech officials has been replaced by a sense of optimism that the reintroduction of visas is not, after all, a fait accompli. The breakthrough seems to have arrived after talks between European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso and the Canadian authorities, during which Mr Barroso reportedly raised the threat of imposing visas for Canadian citizens wishing to visit any EU country if Canada reimposed visas for Czechs. Foreign Minister Jan Kohout had this to say on Czech Television’s Václav Moravec discussion programme:

“If you’re asking me whether Canada is on the verge of introducing visas – the answer is that we have no indication that Canada intends to do so. That doesn’t mean they won’t introduce them. But what it does mean is that all the data that we’ve heard about in the last few weeks – all the numbers and so on – are now irrelevant. It means that the results of those talks with the European Commission were significant. Canada is now truly unsure whether to introduce visas or not. We believe this is down to a clear Czech position on one hand, and on the other, the fact that we managed to get the European Commission, the EU Presidency, and fellow EU members on our side.”

Jan Kohout, photo: An added factor are reports of a slowdown in the numbers of Czech Romanies arriving in Canada seeking asylum, as well as anecdotal evidence that several dozen Roma families have since returned to the Czech Republic after finding it difficult to make ends meet in Canada. Conditions for asylum seekers from the Czech Republic have apparently worsened due to overcrowding, and many have chosen to return home.

However Mr Kohout said Canada may still introduce other measures to deal with those still arriving, such as electronic registration for Czech citizens wishing to visit Canada or tighter controls at Prague Airport. A similar wave of Roma asylum seekers led Canada to impose visas for Czechs in 1997, a requirement that was only lifted two years ago.

According to official Canadian government statistics, around 860 Czech citizens sought asylum in Canada in 2008, more than the number from Iraq or Afghanistan. So far this year the number is more than 1,700. Most Roma asylum seekers say they are fleeing racial discrimination in their homeland, although critics claim they are economic migrants and victims of a well-organised trade. Canada has so far granted asylum in around one third of the 335 cases it’s examined so far.

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