Canada urges Hungary to take action following flood of refugee claimants
By Peter O'Neil
The Canwest News Service, October 7, 2009
A sudden wave of refugee claimants arriving in Canadian airports from Hungary has resulted in the federal government calling on Budapest to take action possibly against organized crime elements to contain the soaring number of asylum-seekers, Canwest News Service has learned.
The government hasn't yet moved to impose visa restrictions on Hungary, as it did over the summer to deal with a flood of claimants from Mexico and the Czech Republic.
But Ottawa also hasn't ruled out that option after Hungary emerged during the April-to-June period as the third-highest source of claimants, after Mexico and the Czech Republic.
With claims from those two countries falling to a trickle as a result of the summer decision, Hungary is on pace to emerge as Canada's top refugee source country even though it is a member of the 27-nation European Union that champions itself as a bastion of human rights in the world.
'There are currently no plans to impose a visa on Hungary,' said Alykhan Velshi, spokesman for Immigration Minister Jason Kenney, in an e-mail. 'Visa-exempt countries are aware that if they do not satisfy the conditions of Canada's visa exemption, the requirement for a visa may be re-imposed.'
In the first half of this year 750 Hungarians made refugee claims, including 578 during the second quarter, from April 1 to June 30.
It was well ahead of war-ravaged countries more commonly viewed as sources of refugees facing persecution and fearing for their safety, like Somalia, Iraq and Sri Lanka.
Alykhan said Kenney has already flown to Budapest to raise his concerns about the increase, and discuss strategies 'to ensure that individuals who benefit from our visitor visa exemption to come to Canada are, in fact, genuine visitors.'
Kenney has previously questioned whether Czech claimants, the vast majority from the Roma minority that has endured a history of discrimination in Europe, were genuine refugees facing persecution and fearing for their safety.
Alykhan said the government, which has provoked anger and threats of retaliation by Prague and the EU as a result of the Czech visa decision, is looking for alternatives in the case of Hungary.
'We're working with (senior government officials) to see if there are others ways to resolve this issue whether crackdowns on organized crime networks encouraging unfounded asylum claims, or addressing the issue of unregistered immigration consultants misleading people into coming to Canada and making asylum claims.'
Andras Pap, who has written on inadequate Hungarian hate crime laws at the Central European University, expressed sympathy with Canada's concern about the credibility of the claims.
'Under current international law standards Hungarian Roma should not qualify as political refugees, even though Hungary should be much more stringent in providing protection to its minorities,' he said in an e-mail Wednesday. 'Such claims can legitimately be dismissed by Canadian authorities.'
But he said the re-imposition of a visa requirement would be both 'unfriendly' and would do nothing to get Budapest to meet its domestic and international legal obligations to protect the Roma from discrimination and far-right violence, which is on the upswing.
In 2007 there were only 24 claims from Hungary, but that number jumped the following year after the Conservative government, which had been under pressure from the EU to end visa requirements for new EU member countries, finally gave in to pressure from Brussels.
Kenney's predecessor, Diane Finley, announced in the spring of 2008 that citizens of Poland, Hungary, Lithuania, and Slovakia would not require visas. The government had previously lifted the visa requirement for Estonians, in 2006, and Czechs and Latvians in late 2007.
In 2008, as a result of that decision, 288 Hungarians arrived seeking asylum. The total reached 172 for the first quarter of 2009 before more than tripling to 578 from April 1 to June 30.
In 2008 the Immigration and Refugee Board settled 22 claims in favour of Hungarian applicants, while 13 were rejected, eight were abandoned, 39 were withdrawn, and 272 applications were listed as pending.
During the first half of this year none were accepted, one was rejected, 12 were abandoned, 66 were withdrawn, and 940 were pending.