August 29, 2009

For a Progressive Canadian Refugee Policy

Kieran Szuchewycz,
RY Europe Correspondent

Left, four Roma families who share the same house in Hamilton

In the summer of 2009, immigration minister Jason Kenney imposed visa requirements on the citizens of the Czech Republic who normally enjoy visa free travel like the rest of the European Member State citizens to Canada. The minister pointed to the dramatic increase in refugee claimants from the Czech Republic as the cause of the new requirements. Jason Kenney argued the majority of these Czech refugee claims must be false as the Czech Republic is "in compliance with the European human rights law".

Unfortunately these refugee claims are not false, and at the heart of Europe the brutality of fascist violence is being relived by the Roma community.

The recent 2009 European elections produced worrying victories for the extreme right with fascist parties winning seats across Europe with anti-immigrant and anti-minority rhetoric. These fascist parties are a threat to all Europeans as history has made so clear, but one group in particular is being targeted with a violence not experienced since the holocaust. In the Czech Republic, Hungary, and Slovakia the Roma minority are being attacked with assassinations, assault, intimidation, arson, and organized pogroms, by fascist gangs. In towns such as Litvínov in the Czech Republic these gangs have organized regular marches through Roma occupied residential areas, armed with knives, heavy sticks, and Molotov cocktails with the expressed goal of "cleansing" the neighborhood.

One specific case showcasing the viciousness of the fascist gangs was the firebombing of a Roma home just after a large fascist rally in a nearby town, the crime left two parents injured and their 2 year old daughter with burns covering 80% of her body.

In these states the more mainstream parties are also actively supporting the segregation and ghettoization of Roma communities. In the Czech Republic the some local governments stream healthy Roma children into classes designed for mentally handicapped students. During the European elections one Czech party promised a "final solution" to the Roma question in their campaign advertisements.

A member of the Czech Senate Human Rights Committee, Liana Janáčková, explaining her opinion on housing for Roma stated, "I have to deal with the Gypsies. Unfortunately, I am a racist. I do not agree with the integration of Gypsies, that they should be able to live throughout the district. Unfortunately, we selected Bedriška [quarter], so that is where they will be - with a high fence, an electric one for all I care."

With tacit support of the mainstream conservative parties, it is not startling that state protection of Roma is nearly non-existent in these "democratic" EU member states. Under these circumstances it is no surprise that escape remains the only option left.

The recent visa changes are not in the spirit of Canada's refugee system, punishing and ignoring the victims rather than exposing the racism, injustice and fascist violence in the Czech Republic which is at the root of the Roma exodus. Jason Kenney has effectively dismissed the real life threatening danger of the Roma, saying "it's an insult to the important concept of refugee protection to allow it be systematically violated by people who are overwhelmingly economic immigrants".

The refusal to recognize the legitimacy of the Roma claims and impose visa restrictions is racist at its core. A progressive and open refugee program is needed in Canada takes claimants from all countries, and does not ignore the Roma of the European Union or the war resisters of the United States simply because these are NATO allies. The rise of fascist groups in Europe and their campaign of violence against the Roma should be actively opposed by all progressives, and the victims assisted by a just refugee program that secures the escape that is unfortunately required in the 21st century.

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