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August 19, 2009

Roma - Jason Kenney goes after the victims, again

Reuel S. Amdur

Reuel S. AmdurImmigration Minister Jason Kenney has imposed a visa requirement on Czechs in order to stop Roma from coming here to claim refugee status. 

He referred to them as “false refugee claimants.” 

They are, he says, “economic migrants jumping the queue” who could easily move to “26 other Western democracies in the European Union.” 

He acknowledged “difficulties” in the Czech Republic but said that “the [Czech] government is doing its best to improve the legal treatment, and economic opportunities for, members of that community.”

Further, their country is “in compliance with the European human rights law.”  There “is no policy of state-sponsored persecution against the Roma.”

One hardly knows where to begin, with so much falsehood and bafflegab, but let’s give it a try, beginning with the assertion that there are European countries to which they could go. 

The Globe and Mail, shamefully parroting Kenney’s sentiments, notes that these Roma could move within the countries in the Schengen zone. 

But Bill Bila, a Canadian Roma and co-chairman of the Roma Community Centre in Toronto, pointed out, while moving within the zone is no problem, moving to other countries does not necessarily give a right to work there.  He says that in a number of them employment is not readily permitted, for example in France, Germany, and Spain. 

What, then, about how the Czech Republic is “doing its best to improve the conditions for the Roma? 

Last year, Czech President Václav Klaus vetoed an anti-discrimination bill designed to put the country in step with European Union human rights provisions.  Segregation of Roma into miserable ghettoes has been increasing, not decreasing.  Czech Human Rights and Minorities Minister Michael Kocáb observed that Roma feel “excluded to the extent that they cannot live a normal, harmonious life.”  One factor he noted was an increase in right-wing extremism.

The matter of extremism brings us to Kenney’s “difficulties.”  According to Amnesty International, “Roma in the country continue to suffer discrimination at the hands of both public officials and private individuals, including in the areas of housing, education, health care and employment.  Not only do they face forced evictions, segregation in education and racially motivated violence, but they have been denied justice when seeking redress for the abuses against them.”

Bila recounted incidents in which skinheads killed a Roma with an axe and burned a 17-year-old Roma boy to death. 

Paul St. Clair, Executive Director of the Roma Community Centre, has met eight women who have been beaten and kicked in the stomach while pregnant, by skinheads. Four are now infertile and another has a son whose arms are disfigured by the kicks. 

Google illustrations show a Roma woman with swastikas carved on her chest by skinheads, and St. Clair encountered another with swastikas carved on her back above her kidneys. 

The surge in right-wing violence includes fire-bombing of houses, home invasions accompanied by beatings and destruction of furniture, shootings with air rifles, and police brutality.  Beatings also occur on the street. 

The Canadian Council for Refugees encountered a woman who was sterilized while in hospital, without her consent.  A number of other Roma women have had the same experience. 

Yes, Mr. Kenney, there are “difficulties.”

Unfortunately, not all Czech officials are as concerned as Kocáb is.  A number of politicians have played the racist card.  Liana Janácková, while vice-chairman of the Senate Human Rights Committee and mayor of Ostrava district Mariánské Hory, told a local rally, “Unfortunately, I’m a racist.  I disagree with the integration and their living across the district.  Unfortunately, we’ve chosen Bedriška. Therefore, they will be there, behind a tall fence with electricity.” 

There is massive unemployment among Roma in the Czech Republic.  The common complaint is that they are all lazy.  However, according to St. Clair, some 70 to 80% who came in the wave of refugee claims 12 years ago are permanently employed.  Some of the others are disabled because of the violence they experienced  before coming here. 

Contrary to Kenney’s comment about false claimants, the Immigration and Refugee Board has found in favor of the claims of the overwhelming majority of recent Roma claimants. 

Kenney is right to be concerned about the backlog of claims.  Bila speaks of Slovak Roma claimants who have been waiting three years for a hearing. 

However, St. Clair and former chairman of the Immigration and Refugee Board Peter Showler both point the finger back at Kenney. 

The Conservative government has failed to appoint members to the Board, leaving it severely short staffed.  Showler also charges that Kenney’s comments about the Roma constitute an inappropriate interference with the ability of Board members to make independent judgments pm cases brought before them. 

So what of “difficulties”? 

If skinheads were to throw a Molotov cocktail through his window, would that be simply a difficulty?  If they threw his wife to the ground and kicked her unconscious, would that be just a difficulty?  If his mayor decided that Kenney, his Globe and Mail apologists, and their kind, should be stuck behind an electrified fence, away from decent people, would that be only a difficulty? 

Kenney has not called the Czech Republic to task for its treatment of the Roma.  He just blames the victim. 

As human rights advocate Gwendolyn Albert commented with regard to the false asylum seekers assertion, ``It simply fans the flames of the neo-Nazi campaign to paint all Roma as swindlers.`` 

The Roma were fellow victims with the Jews in the Holocaust.  There will be a Holocaust memorial event on November 4 at Toronto`s First Narayever Synagogue, to remember Jewish and Roma victims of the Nazis.  Will the Canadian Jewish Congress have anything to say about the Czech visa requirement?

Reuel S. Amdur is a freelance writer based across from Ottawa.

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