Asylum news on Czech, Hungarian and Slovak Roma

15 May 1998

The international press reported on April 14 that Canadian authorities had granted refugee status to a family of twenty Roma who arrived in Toronto in 1997 fleeing persecution in the Czech Republic. The family's lawyer, George Kubes, says the Immigration and Refugee Board (IRB) has handed down its decision in the case of Gezja Horvath, his wife Maria Horvathová, both 56 years old, and 18 other members of the family. Kubes told the Toronto Sun newspaper that the family includes the couple's three sons and their wives, along with 12 children. The board concluded that their fear of persecution in the Czech Republic was well-founded and reported, „People in the streets called the claimants and other Roma 'black mouths' and uttered offensive slogans against them.''

Over 1,000 Czech Roma arrived in Toronto and other Canadian cities between August and October last year, after a Czech television show suggested Canada was a good place to seek asylum. In October 1997, the Canadian government imposed visa restrictions on Czech nationals to stop Roma from arriving. As of March 31, there were 1006 applications for asylum before the board.

The decision was the first handed down by the IRB since the influx last autumn on the issue of whether Roma face persecution in the Czech Republic. Earlier reviews of Czech applicants by Canadian asylum authorities produced a trend toward positive decisions, although the number of applicants under review per year rarely exceeded thirty. Ethnicity is not referred to in the IRB figures. Following the influx in autumn, the IRB ceased reviewing applications in order to study the situation of Roma in the Czech Republic more carefully. Fears had been sparked that the process might become infected by political considerations when one member of the IRB was reassigned and replaced with a senior IRB official who had rendered questionable decisions in the past. Between January and March 31, 1998, 31 individuals from the Czech Republic have received asylum in Canada, and it can be presumed that most of these are Roma.

Roma from the Czech and Slovak Republics have also begun to receive asylum in the United Kingdom on grounds that they have a legitimate fear of being persecuted on account of their ethnicity in their home countries. A Romani man from Slovakia, Mr Miroslav Balog, was recently granted asylum in Britain, following a three month procedure. Mr Balog arrived in Britain on October 17, 1997, and subsequently filed an application for asylum. Mr Balog's application was refused by the Secretary of State on November 11, 1997. The Secretary of State concluded that while there are anti-Romani sentiments in Slovakia, such sentiments are not reflected in the policies of the Slovak government. The Secretary of State further held that the Slovak government has denounced racial violence and compensated victims of such crime. Directions for Mr Balog's removal from the United Kingdom were subsequently given. Mr Balog, however, appealed the decision and in mid-February he was granted asylum. The decision is important in that it came in the face of pressure on the part of British politicians to decide the contrary; when a group of Roma arrived in Britain in Autumn 1997 seeking refuge from persecution in the Czech and Slovak Republics, Home Secretary Jack Straw proclaimed that Britain would not tolerate „bogus" asylum seekers. The entire episode was plagued by inflammatory anti-Romani articles in the British press (see Roma Rights, Winter 1998).

Finally, it was reported to the ERRC in mid-April that up to five hundred Roma from Hungary had appeared in Toronto, Canada, and had filed or were in the process of filing asylum applications. The Hungarian press simultaneously reported that Romani families in various parts of the country were planning to leave Hungary. Reports also appeared in the Hungarian press that the Budapest 8th District Local Gypsy Self-Government, a municipal government advisory body, was issuing papers asserting the authenticity of the ethnicity of the Roma carrying them. Such papers would assist asylum authorities in proving that the bearer is, indeed, Romani. The departure of Hungarian Roma has not met with the media hype that the Czech „exodus" did last autumn. Between the beginning of 1998 and March 31, 28 Hungarian citizens have been granted asylum in Canada.

(ERRC, Népszabadság, Magyar Hírlap, UPI, RFE/RL, Roma Advocacy Centre, Toronto Sun, UPI)

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