Hungary is becoming a problem for Canada - immigration minister
March 3, 2010, 11:04 am
Four Hungarians who went to Canada to watch the Vancouver Winter Olypics are now seeking refugee status, CTV News has learned. The fans include other claimants as well, two from Japan and one from Russia. Immigration Minister Jason Kenney said Hungary was "becoming a problem" for Canada.
Refugees from Japan? Come on!
Kenney said it was "ridiculous" that anyone from Japan could claim to be a refugee and told CTV's Power Play on Tuesday that it was a sign that the system has broken down.
"Look, to get two claims from Japan? This is ridiculous. Japan is a liberal democratic country with full human rights protections," he said. "You have to wonder what kind of a system we have that encourages people from a democracy like that to be saying that they're victims of persecution and coming to Canada."
Hungary is "public enemy" No.1
The minister said Hungary is becoming a problem for the immigration and refugee system.
"It's become our No. 1 source country for refugee claims: we're getting several hundred a month," he said.
"What's really weird is that 97% of the Hungarian refugee claimants to Canada are subsequently withdrawing their refugee claims ... I haven't got an answer to why that is happening."
But Kenney suggested that it could be because refugee claimants are allowed to work in Canada, collect welfare and claim other social benefits even after they abandon their refugee claims.
"So I think people may be getting into Canada, making a claim, getting benefits or a work permit, and then for whatever reason they decide I guess that they don't have a legitimate claim and that's why they withdraw it or don't pursue it."
He said he found it difficult to believe that genuine refugees could come from Hungary, even from the country's Roma minority.
"Hungary is a member of the European Union, it's a democratic country in full compliance with human rights laws. While there are challenges for people there, there's no evidence of state persecution."
Richard Kurland, a lawyer specializing in immigration matters, said allowing failed or abandoned refugee claimants to continue collecting welfare or other benefits is "simply bizarre."
"It looks like someone propped the door open with a brick. These numbers clearly show that there's an element of abuse of Canada's generosity," he said. "Something else is going on other than a genuine refugee claim."
He said the vast majority of the Hungarian refugee claimants are from the Roma community and are primarily interested in coming to Canada for free health care, education and other social services.
If they were really facing persecution, Kurland said they could much more easily travel to another European Union country.
Canada to re-impose visa requirements?
Hungary joined the European Union in 2004 and Canada lifted the visa requirement for Hungarian visitors in the spring of 2008, when it also lifted the visa requirement for visitors from Poland, Lithuania and Slovakia.
The number of monthly claims was usually between 20 and 40 immediately after the visa requirement was lifted. By the fall of 2009, the monthly total was about 200, making Hungary one of the top three sources of refugee claimants.
Although the Canadian government would prefer not to re-impose visa requirements for Hungary, Ottawa has been considering that move, according to a report in The Canadian Press in mid-January.
Last summer, Canada imposed visas on visitors from Mexico and the Czech Republic, but the Canadian Press warned that a visa requirement for Hungarians could provoke even more backlash from the European Union, which has spoken out against the requirement for Czech travellers.
Imre Helyes, the Hungarian consul in Ottawa, said in January that there was no official indication by the government that it was considering visa requirements for Hungary again. He noted that Canadian authorities have not approved a single application for refugee status by Hungarians in 2009.