Jason Kenney, the Citizenship and Immigration Minister, says the government has tried but so far failed to stem the tide of Roma coming into Canada and abusing its refugee system.
The Immigration and Refugee Board receives approximately 400 claims from Hungary every month, the vast majority of whom are believed to be Roma. A record number arrived in Toronto in October — 91 asylum-seekers landing in a single day on Oct. 26, according to data from the Canada Border Services Agency.
About 40% of refugee claimants from Hungary are coming from a city called Miskolc, about four hours outside of Budapest, Mr. Kenney said, a region the government has targeted with fruitless information campaigns.
“We tried to circulate brochures explaining ‘This is not the way you immigrate to Canada,’ and it’s had no impact,” he said, adding that the flood of asylum-seekers is “highly organized” and not at all spontaneous.
More worrisome is the evidence of human trafficking involved in these cases, Mr. Kenney added.
Earlier this month, a court in a Hamilton, Ont., sentenced the kingpin of a Hungarian human smuggling ring to nine years in prison. Ferenec Domotor, 49, had brought Hungarians to Canada, trained them on how to file for welfare, and made them work and live in squalid conditions while he kept their social assistance for himself.
Canada’s ambassador to Hungary, Tamara Guttman, visited Miskolc and another northern city called Eger to find out why 1,600 Hungarians claimed refugee status in Canada in the first half of 2011, Hungarian media reported in December.
Last year, Hungary had the greatest number of refugee claimants, with 4,423 applying for that status in Canada. A year earlier the figure was just 2,296.
‘Almost none of these European asylum claimants even show up for their hearings … but they all do show up in Ontario’s welfare program’
The government hopes to push through refugee reform Bill C-31 before the House breaks for the summer, making way for a “new and faster asylum system this fall,” ideally by October, Mr. Kenney said in an interview last week.
If that bill passes, the immigration system would move bona fide refugees through to permanent residency in the span of months rather than years, and it would make it easier and quicker for the government to identify and weed out false refugee claimants.
“Almost none of these European asylum claimants even show up for their hearings — they just overwhelmingly abandon them and withdraw their own claims,” Mr. Kenney said. “But they all do show up in Ontario’s welfare program.”
The government will create a list of “safe” democratic countries with independent judiciaries and who have signed on to international human rights laws and conventions — countries where residents should not be facing persecution.
Those claimants will have an expedited hearing, and they won’t have access to various appeals, he said.
“I would anticipate that when we pull the switch on the new system this fall, we will have the initial list of designated countries in place,” he said. “I would certainly anticipate that it would include those European countries that are the primary source of false asylum claims.”
China, Colombia, Pakistan, Namibia, Mexico, Nigeria, Saint Vincent, Sri Lanka and India rounded out the Immigration and Refugee Board’s list of top 10 source countries of refugee claimants.
In 2009, Stephen Harper’s government introduced visa requirements on visitors from Mexico and the Czech Republic, slowing the flow of refugee claimants from those countries to a trickle.
Between 2007 and 2009, Czech nationals, the majority of Roma origin, filed 3,000 refugee claims, compared with fewer than five in 2006.
National Post, with files from Postmedia News