Canadian activist denies manipulation of Czech Romany migration
July 12, 2009
Prague/Toronto – The Czech government is trying to lay the blame for the Romanies' migration to alleged unscrupulous manipulators in the background, Paul St. Clair from the Toronto based Romany Community Center said in a press release he passed to CTK today.
The information was also dismissed by Brian P. Goodman, chairperson of the Immigration and Refugee Board of Canada (IRB), that decides on refugee claims.
The migration of Czech Romanies to Canada where they seek asylum is accompanied with a client system in which some former citizens of the Czech Republic and Slovakia have a “professional and financial interest,” sociologist Roman Kristof, former director of the Government Council for Romany Affairs, said in a report passed to CTK earlier this week.
Due to the rising number of Czech applicants, Canada is considering reimposing the visa requirements cancelled in 2007.
The report directly mentions Karolina Banomova, a former student of Romany studies at Charles University in Prague, and Paul St. Clair, head of the Romany Community Centre in Toronto, as “prospectors” of the asylum migration.
Banomova was granted asylum in Canada in 1997.
“Using an informal information network, they let those interested in asylum migration know about the timing for arrival in Canada and for submitting the refugee status request. Banomova determines the timing, using the information from IRB members. She enjoys their trust and respect,” Kristof writes.
Banomova has dismissed Kristof's allegation.
Kristof said St.Clair worked as an “independent source of information” for the IRB on the position of Romanies in the Czech Republic and he also represented Romany applicants for asylum in the proceedings.
He said the IRB contributed with several thousands of Canadian dollars to the representation of refugee claimants.
“There are no quotas for individual countries, nor does the IRB pay persons to represent claimants. Most importantly, any suggestion that our decision makers are influenced by those who would take advantage of our system is simply not true,” Goodman said.
St. Clair said it was absolute nonsense that he and Banomova earned any money through this.
He said they were discussing turning to Canadian or Czech courts over the unsubstantiated allegations.
St.Clair said he and Banomova helped Romany asylum seekers with information on the form of the proceedings or explained to them how to obtain a lawyer that would represent them before the IRB hearings.
It is true that the lawyers, if they represent the refugees, can gain state support and salaries for the translators who work for them, St. Clair said, adding that since neither him nor Banomova were lawyers they had no money from this.
St.Clair said he only helped Czech Romanies for the salary as the head of the Toronto Romany centre.
He dismissed Kristof's claim that as an aide he could influence the IRB's decision-making.
He said the IRB had very strict criteria when granting asylums, relying on its own findings as well as reports from such renowned organisations as the U.S. Department of State and Amnesty International.
Czech Romanies do not need any incitement to leave the country in which they are afraid to walk in the streets, in which people spit at them, in which they are beaten and sometimes mutilated by skinheads, St.Clair said.
They leave because those attacking them do not fear the revenge by courts and police. As skinheads and neo-Nazis are supported by the population, the Romanies have nowhere to turn to, St.Clair said.
Goodman insisted that his staff was made up of professsional and independent experts.
“Our professional independent decision makers are trained to weigh and evaluate the evidence in each case on its own merits and base their decisions solely on the evidence adduced at the hearing,” he said.
The number of Czech applicants has again been mounting since the visas abolition in 2007. Canadian authorities registered 2581 of them for last year and in the January-April period this year.
A total of 132 Czechs were granted Canadian asylum in the same period.
The IRB has managed to deal with and finalise 334 Czech claims. It has dismissed most of them.