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Saturday, December 20, 2014

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The Roma: none is too many

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Human rights organizations such as the Simon Wiesenthal Center are documenting an increase in violence and vandalism against the Roma and Jewish community of Hungary. Many Roma fearing for their families’ lives have arrived in Canada in an attempt to find a safe home.

What they are discovering are laws passed and changes of policy by the Harper government that make refugee claims in Canada more difficult, especially for those coming from countries on Immigration Minister Jason Kenney’s “safe” list – places where he says all citizens are safe and secure. Hungary is on that list.

According to our new laws, refugee claimants from “safe” countries have a few weeks to prepare their hearings, a process you and I couldn’t manage easily, and effectively lose their right of appeal. Further, people who claimed refugee status after Dec. 15, 2012, no longer have access to health care through the Interim Federal Health program, including pregnant women, children, and people facing acute crises such as heart attacks. Ask your federal MP to clarify how this is possible.

Kenney has travelled to Hungary and used Canadian tax dollars to underwrite a billboard campaign in Miskolc, a town with one of the largest Roma population in that country. The billboards urge Roma not to come to Canada, and state that “people will be returned very quickly” to Hungary. The mayor of that town has also responded, threatening that Roma who leave Miskolc and then are shipped back by Canada are not welcome, and will be denied housing and schools for their children. These actions and statements sound eerily familiar. The Roma are truly people without a home. 

The following is an email I received from Gina Csanyi-Robah, the executive director of the Toronto Roma Community Centre:

“Dear Avrum: Almost every Roma child from Hungary and the Czech Republic that I have taught in Toronto has reported abuse at school – physical, verbal, and psychological violence from teachers and other students and their parents. Many have reported beatings by skinheads and have shown me scars on their bodies. Many have been deported now. I have had a number of reported teenage suicide attempts as deportation becomes eminent. 

 “In April 2011, 200 Hungarian Roma families were terrorized for three weeks by neo-Nazis who came to the village of Gyongyospata as participants in a Jobbik rally.  Jobbik is a neo-Nazi styled political party that has representation in the Hungarian parliament. The thugs entered schools, stood outside homes, they followed people to the stores and shouted Hitler-like remarks and threatened death.”

The police stood by. The Red Cross stepped in. Gina added that many families from Gyongyospata are here as refugees claimants and that two families came to the Roma Centre and told their story to Kenney on Oct. 29, 2011. “These families have lost their asylum claim and are now in the process of removal,” Gina lamented.

What’s incredibly bizarre, while all of this is happening, Kenney was invited to light a flame of remembrance on International Holocaust Remembrance Day – Jan. 27 – by the Canadian Society for Yad  Vashem. Somehow, along the road we have redefined our hands-on commitment to “never again” and forgotten we are “none is too many.” 

Please fix this part of our world. It is broken. Call the Roma Community Centre at 1344 Bloor St. W., at 416-546-2524. See www.romatoronto.org and/or the Facebook group: Toronto Roma Community Centre. Offer help.

After so much Holocaust education, we should know what to do.

Avrum.rosensweig@veahavta.org

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