There will be no mass return of Hungarian Roma once Canada implements stricter immigration rules, Minister of Human Resources Zoltán Balog told state news agency MTI on Monday. He was speaking as Canada’s Citizenship, Immigration and Multiculturalism Minister Jason Kenney visited the country ahead of the implementation, expected this year, of a new Canadian immigration act designed to tighten the rules against bogus asylum claims and people smugglers.
The proposed changes, now being debated in the Canadian Senate, would see the elaboration of a list of “safe countries” (designated countries of origin, in government parlance) categorised as unlikely to produce legitimate asylum-seekers. No decisions have been officially made concerning which countries will appear on the list, Citizenship and Immigration Canada government department officer Remi Lariviere told The Budapest Times, but the process is anticipated to take place by December with countries assessed on criteria that include the number of claims that have been rejected, abandoned or withdrawn to date.
Should Hungary be included in this list, it would significantly reduce the chances of Hungarian Roma legitimately entering Canada on claims that they are subject to persecution in their home country. Additionally, while asylum claims from such safe countries would still be heard, they would be processed in a much shorter period (30 to 45 days instead of the current average of 1,038) and claimants would not meanwhile be entitled to full access to health care in Canada.
Most claims from Hungary
A statement released by Citizenship and Immigration Canada on Tuesday noted that the largest number of asylum claims filed in the past three years originated from Hungary, with about 40 per cent from around Miskolc, where Kenney met civic leaders and leaders of the local Roma self-government during his visit.
“I was happy to get a chance to listen to the Hungarian Roma community’s concerns, and discuss with them the irregular migration which sees almost 95 per cent of Hungarian asylum claims abandoned, withdrawn or rejected,” Kenney said.
Hungarians also make up the majority of individuals taking up a federal government pilot scheme launched in the Toronto area on 29 June and that provides a free airfare and up to CAD 2,000 in in-kind resettlement services to failed asylum claimants who agree not to appeal their status.
Canada will not force Hungarian Roma to return, Balog said (the Canadian Embassy would not confirm this on Thursday) adding that new rules will make it less appealing for Roma to apply for political asylum for financial gain. A government statement released on Monday said Balog had discussed with his Canadian colleague the reasons behind the Roma leaving Hungary for Canada, informing him that “there are no political reasons to leave the country” and that “stating anyone is under organised persecution in Hungary is a lie”.
Government initiatives are in place to solve problems affecting not only the Roma but all people in poverty, the statement said.
The reintroduction of visa requirements for Hungarians was not discussed at the meeting, Balog said.
The embassy declined to comment to The Budapest Times on the chances of Hungary being named a safe country and on the actions to be taken regarding Hungarian Roma asylum claimants already in Canada. Lariviere said Canada is “continuing to monitor the situation in Hungary” but is not imposing visa requirements at the moment.
The country witnessed a large influx of immigrants from Hungary, mostly Roma, in the 1990s, prompting authorities to introduce visa restrictions after 2001. These were lifted in 2008 for Hungary, the Czech Republic and Slovakia, but renewed large-scale immigration coupled with concerns of claim abuse and criminal activity have again put arrivals from Hungary in the spotlight, with the introduction of tougher rules designed to weed out bogus claims.
Tens of thousands of Hungarian Roma live in Canada, Kenney noted.
Though keen to emphasise that not all Roma in Canada are under suspicion, a report released in September by the Canada Border Services Agency revealed concerns that “significant criminal activity” including most commonly skimming fraud and cheque fraud had been linked with individuals from the Roma community, and that local gangs may be developing.
Members of the Hungarian Roma community were also found to be at the heart of the largest proven human trafficking case in Canadian history to date, both as victims and perpetrators.
Since 2008 at least 20 Roma men from around Pápa have been lured to Canada with the promise of good jobs by members of an extended Hungarian Roma family that then coached them to file false refugee and social assistance claims, before making them work in the family construction business unpaid, undocumented and in slave-like conditions.
The case gave rise to the toughest ever penalty for human trafficking when ringleader Ferenc Domotor was jailed for nine years in September after pleading guilty to conspiracy to traffic humans, with concurrent sentences for participation in a criminal organisation and other immigration offences.
Some 12 convictions have also been handed so far to various family relations including Domotor’s wife, son, brothers, cousins and in-laws involved with the case.