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Canada: At 1 720 asylum seekers, Czech Republic comes second, after Mexico

Prague, 8.7.2009 8:28, (ROMEA)

Citizens of the Czech Republic filed the second-highest number of requests for asylum in Canada during the first half of this year. Mexicans are in first place with almost 5 500 requests. Yesterday the Canadian Embassy in Prague informed ČTK that the authorities had registered 1 720 Czech requests, twice as many as for all of last year. Czech diplomats had previously estimated that roughly 1 600 Czechs had left for Canada between January and April of this year. About 10 % of them have succeeded in being granted asylum.

The high number of asylum seekers is the reason Canadian diplomats are considering reinstating visas for Czech citizens. The Canadian Embassy has released data according to which Mexico and the Czech Republic are followed by Colombia in third place (almost 1 200 requests), and then Haiti with not quite 1 000 asylum seekers. Hungary is in fifth place with almost 800 asylum seekers.

Roma complaining of discrimination are traveling to Canada en masse. During the first three months of this year, 34 Czech citizens were granted asylum there. A total of 118 Czech citizens were granted refugee status in 2008 and 2009.

In Hungary, also an EU Member State, attacks against the Roma minority have recently intensified. For example, Hungary was shaken at the end of February by the murder of a Romani man and his young son as they were fleeing their burning house in the municipality of Tatárszentgyörgy. In the Czech Republic, the Roma have also become the target of arson attacks. The number of public gatherings organized by extremists and aimed against Roma is also increasing.

The Czech press has reported that the asylum seekers in Canada are abusing the asylum system there. Claims that their departure is “organized” have also been made.

Indications are that Canada may be about to reinstate visas, even though Czech diplomats are doing their best to convince Canada not to take that step. The results could be known during the next few days. "I estimate that a decision should be made during the next few days. I do not believe it will be made immediately,” said Czech Foreign Minister Jan Kohout, who is prepared for either outcome. He also intends to make use of EU pressure to resolve the problem.

An influx of people seeking protection in Canada more than a decade ago led to Canada introducing visas for Czech citizens in October 1997. Ten years later, the visas were lifted. Since then, however, new Czech immigrants have starting appearing in Canada seeking asylum. According to former Czech Foreign Minister Cyril Svoboda, Canada is the only country in the world currently granting asylum to Czech citizens. Svoboda believes the rights of minorities in the Czech Republic are secure.

According to Kohout, Prague has long offered Ottawa the opportunity to conclude a treaty recognizing the Czech Republic as a safe country of origin, which would make it practically impossible for asylum to be granted to Czech citizens. Ottawa has refused to sign such a treaty so far.

Travel agencies are asking Canada to announce the introduction of visas for Czech citizens at least 30 days in advance, saying that otherwise there will be chaos on the travel market. There is also speculation that Canada intends to introduce visas for Mexico as well as for the Czech Republic.

ČTK, Gwendolyn Albert, ROMEA, ROMEA, ČTK, translated by Gwendolyn Albert
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