Roma and Jewish groups are raising objections after Ottawa officially labelled Hungary and the Slovak Republic “safe countries” for refugees fleeing from them, because they say Ottawa is ignoring the persecution of minorities in both EU states.
Citizenship and Immigration Canada released an official list of 27 designated countries of origin (DCOs) – known as “safe countries” – late last week.
The list, which the government says will be expanded, is part of a new immigration law – Bill C-31, the Protecting Canada’s Immigration System Act – that seeks to streamline the refugee application process. It came into force Dec. 15.
It’s designed to provide an “initial list of countries whose citizens will have their asylum claims expedited for processing because they do not normally produce refugees,” the ministry said.
Twenty five of the 27 “safe countries” are in the European Union, including Hungary, the Czech Republic and the Slovak Republic. More countries will be added over the next few months.
Since the bill’s passing last June, there had been much speculation about which countries would make the list.
Many immigration lawyers and newcomer communities, particularly Canadian Roma, had feared Hungary and the Slovak Republic would be on it. The Roma contend they face growing persecution in both countries.
Jews in Hungary are also experiencing heightened antisemitism, and many are growing increasingly concerned for their safety.
Roma and Jews claim that Hungary is no longer safe for minority communities due to the rise of the neo-Nazi Jobbik party, and they note that violent attacks by paramilitary groups linked to government bodies are on the rise.
A Dec. 14 statement by Citizenship, Immigration and Multiculturalism Minister Jason Kenney – who met with Roma and Jewish leaders while in Hungary in October on a fact-finding mission – defended the list.
“Designating countries is an important step towards a faster and fairer asylum system,” he said. “It is remarkable that the European Union – with its democratic tradition of freedom, respect for human rights, and an independent judiciary – has been the top source region for asylum claims made in Canada. What’s more, virtually all EU claimants either withdraw or abandon their own claims or are rejected by the independent Immigration and Refugee Board [IRB] of Canada.”
The final decision on which countries make the list resides with the minister.
Repeated calls by The CJN to Kenney for his assessment of the political climate in Hungary and the safety of its Roma and Jewish communities have gone unanswered.
The Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs (CIJA) said that “on balance, [we] believe that the DCO list is a net improvement to Canada’s refugee system” that will help expedite “frivolous” claims.
However, Shimon Fogel, the centre’s CEO, said there seem to be “two key deficiencies” with the list.
“First, there are no clear provisions for how a designated country could be removed from the list, should the situation there merit a re-evaluation. Second, DCO applicants awaiting a ruling by the IRB only have access to the same basic health-care coverage extended to failed claimants awaiting deportation. We propose that DCO refugee applicants receive the same health coverage as non-DCO applicants awaiting adjudication of their claims, especially given their expedited evaluation process,” he said.
CIJA does not consider the new immigration law analogous to the “none is too many” policy of 1930s and 1940s Canada, when Jews fleeing Nazi-occupied Europe were turned away from the country, Fogel said.
“It is important to clarify that the DCO system, while imperfect, is in no way analogous to the mistreatment by Canada of those fleeing Nazism,” he added. “All refugee applicants from DCOs are allowed to land on Canadian soil and are guaranteed access to fair investigation and adjudication of their claims. If the current system were in place in the 1930s and 1940s, perhaps many more Jews would have been saved from the horrors of the Holocaust.”
Gina Csanyi-Robah of Toronto’s Roma Community Centre wasn’t available for comment by The CJN’s deadline, but in an interview with the Toronto Star, she was critical of Hungary’s inclusion on the list.
“The Canadian government believes Hungary is a safe, democratic country for everybody. Everyone who spends 10 minutes on the Internet knows that’s not true. The persecution of Roma is so widely documented,” she said.