Two Romani families not allowed to board flight from Prague to Canada, no explanation given
During the past two months approximately 20 Romani people from the Czech Republic have not been allowed to board flights to Canada. They were informed that they would not be let on board by airline private security staff at Václav Havel Airport in Prague.
The two families were informed that they would not be let onto their flights even before they made it to passport control (i.e., when they were at the luggage counter) and were given no explanation as to why, neither orally nor in writing. Czech Television broadcast a report on these refusals yesterday by Richard Samko.
That report features one of the rejected passengers Skyping with her relatives who have long lived in Canada, saying: "This is a terrible humiliation, that's one thing, and the other thing is that we were really looking forward to coming to see you." The two rejected families do not know each other - one is from Kladno, the other from Mimoň - but altogether they paid roughly CZK 100 000 (EUR 3 700) to the Air Transat company for tickets to Canada to visit their relatives.
Staffers with that airline, on the basis of recommendations made by a Canadian security agent, refused to let them on the plane. Czech Television reports that one passenger was said to have a criminal record, an allegation that was ultimately proven false.
Canadian media reported last month that Romani author Eva Kalla (age 60), a citizen of Hungary, was stopped at an airport in Vienna and referred to a Canadian border official who refused to let her on her flight. The Canadian Romani Alliance has reported that Romani community complaints of racial profiling by Canadian border officials began already in 2011.
In the Czech Republic, neither the airline nor the Canadian Embassy will take responsibility for not letting the Romani passengers onto the planes. It is also still unclear whether the passengers will ever get their money back.
"We understand the clients' disappointment, but Air Transat cannot accept responsibility for the authorities' decisions," the airline told Czech Television. The Canadian Embassy in Prague, however, claims airlines are given only "non-binding" recommendations about passengers.
"The liaison officer for the CBSA (Canada Border Services Agency) just provides airlines with recommendations that aid them in upholding the requirements of Canada's law on immigration and refugee protection. The final decision on whether to transport the passengers or not rests with the airlines," a Canadian Embassy staffer told Czech Television.
Samko's report said airlines tend to follow the recommendations of security agents in order to be on the safe side. If an immigration official on the other side of the ocean refuses to let a passenger into the country, the airline is responsible for bearing the costs of the return journey.
Travellers heading to Canada who do not want to risk such problems can complete a form through a so-called "eTA", or electronic travel registration, which will let them know whether they will be allowed into the country before they buy their tickets. More information is available here.
Czech citizens have been able to travel to Canada without visas since mid-November 2013. Canada revived its visa requirement for Czech citizens back in 2009, after which it issued more than 30 000 visas and refused them to 500 would-be travelers.
Czech diplomats repeatedly protested the visas. Prague also conditioned its approval of an economic and trade agreement between Canada and the EU on the visas being lifted.
Canada had revived the visas in July 2009 due to an influx of Czech citizens seeking asylum across the ocean. Most were Romani people complaining of persecution and racism.
The asylum-seekers from the Czech Republic were said to be "abusing" the Canadian asylum system and their departures for the country were said to mainly have an "economic subtext". Canada justified the visas by saying they were preventing mass arrivals of persons who would ultimately not qualify for asylum.
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