No Visa Rule Yet For Hungary, Despite Spike In Refugee Claims

No visa rule yet for Hungary, despite spike in refugee claims

By Terry Pedwell (CP)
October 16, 2009

OTTAWA The number of refugee claims by asylum-seekers from Hungary has rocketed to nearly 1,400 so far this year – almost five times last year's total – making it the top source country for refugee claims at points of entry into Canada, figures obtained by The Canadian Press show.

The explosion in Hungarian refugee claimants, however, hasn't convinced the federal government to impose visa restrictions on Hungary as it did on the Czech Republic earlier this year.

“We don't have any plans to impose a visa on Hungary, at present,” said Alykhan Velshi, Immigration Minister Jason Kenney's director of communications.

“A visa is always a blunt instrument and it's always our last-case scenario.”

The number of claims for refugee status from Hungarians rose to 1,353 to the end of September, compared with 285 for all of 2008 and just 24 the previous year.

And the number of claimants nearly doubled in the three-month period after Canada imposed visa restrictions on the Czech Republic and Mexico, compared with the first half of the year.

While Canada does not break down claimants by ethnicity, immigration authorities anecdotally say the vast majority of recent Hungarian refugee claims have been made by Roma.

Kenney had previously denounced similar claims made by Czech nationals as bogus.

But Kenney's spokesman said there is no connection between the Czech visa restriction, imposed in July, and the exploding number of claims by Hungarians.

“In the 84 days before we imposed on the Czech Republic, we'd received roughly the same number of asylum claims from Hungary as in the 84 days after we imposed on the Czech Republic,” said Velshi.

“What that shows is the visa imposition on the Czech Republic had zero effect on asylum claimants coming from Hungary.”

In June, Kenney met in Budapest with Hungary's justice and foreign affairs ministers, where he raised Canada's concerns that most of the refugee claims were illegitimate.

Since then, Hungarian and Canadian officials have been looking into whether organized crime gangs, or human smugglers known as snakeheads, are encouraging people to make bogus asylum claims in Canada, where they can force them into the sex trade or a life of crime.

“That could be one explanation in the very recent explosion in claims,” said Velshi.

“We're working with (Hungarian officials) to explore all of the possibilities.”

Many in the Hungarian-Canadian community don't see the recent wave of claimants as legitimate refugees.

“I know what discrimination is, I went through it as a child,” said George Telch of Toronto, who came to Canada as a refugee from the former Yugoslavia in 1949.

“Many of us (in Toronto's Hungarian community) think these people are coming to Canada for economic reasons,” he said. “They're not genuine refugees.

“They have the old story in their heads that (Canada) is paradise, you don't have to work, you get rich, you get the car, the house, everything.”

After visa requirements were imposed in July on Czech and Mexican citizens, the number of refugee claimants from those countries slowed to a trickle.

Ottawa is also concerned about so-called “ghost” immigration consultants who charge asylum seekers large sums of money, and then use back-door means to get them into Canada.

Kenney is expected to introduce new regulations, possibly before year's end, to crack down on unscrupulous immigration consulting operations.

On a broader scale, the minister is also preparing legislation to streamline the refugee system to get rid of a massive backlog of applications for refugee status – a backlog that has tripled in the last four years to nearly 61,000 so far in 2009.