World press on introduction of visas for travel to Canada
In their reporting on Canada’s decision yesterday to introduce visas for citizens of the Czech Republic and Mexico, world press agencies are mainly discussing whether those seeking asylum in Canada are justified in doing so. AFP reports that the aim of the Canadian measures is to halt the “explosion” in asylum requests from citizens of these two countries. The web pages of The Toronto Star, the newspaper in Canada with the highest circulation, also quote Canadian voices criticizing the government’s decision as “closing the door” on those who are genuinely attempting to flee persecution.
AFP writes that Ottawa believes asylum requests are being filed too often by people who are striving to find work and merely want to shorten the time it will take for their particular immigration cases to be processed. AFP and other press agencies quoted Canadian Immigration Minister Jason Kenney as saying the amount of these requests is undermining Canada’s ability to assist people who truly need it. The agencies are also reporting that most of the Czech asylum requests are filed by Roma claiming they are discriminated against at home.
The Toronto Star quotes Toronto attorney Max Berger, who represented about 400 Czech Roma last year and this year requesting refugee status in Canada, as saying that the reintroduction of visas for Czechs and Mexicans “closes the door to genuine requests for refugee status and damages our [Canada’s] reputation.” He described the case of one Romani woman seeking asylum after being attacked by skinheads who carved two swastikas into her breasts. "If that is not convincing enough, I do not know what would be,” Berger said. He also said people in desperate need of refuge are inventive, noting that Czech Roma might still make their way into Canada through the USA, which does not require visas of Czech citizens.
The paper reports that Peter Showler, director of the Refugee Forum at Ottawa University, has also criticized the government’s decision. Showler said Minister Kenney was playing political games with people’s lives when he “clearly indicated that the Roma requests were not genuine.” Janet Dench of the Canadian Refugee Council said that “instead of calling on the Czech Republic and Mexico to do more to respect the rights of their citizens, Canada is undermining the legitimacy of those seeking protection.”
The press agencies reiterate that the largest numbers of requests for asylum in Canada come from Mexico and the Czech Republic. Canadian data show that the number of Czech asylum seekers rose from fewer than five requests in 2006, when the visa obligation was still in effect, to a total of 3 000 since October 2007, when the visa obligation was lifted.
The number of Mexican requests has tripled since 2005, reaching 9 400 in 2008, one-quarter of all asylum requests. Only 11 % of Mexican applicants for asylum have succeeded.
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