OTTAWA–Ottawa is seriously considering imposing visa requirements on visitors from Hungary to cut off a growing flood of refugee applicants, mainly from its Roma community, The Canadian Press has learned.
It would be the third such move in less than a year, after Canada imposed visas on visitors from Mexico and the Czech Republic last summer.
Such a decision could provoke retaliation not just from Hungary, but also the much larger and more powerful European Union, which already has protested the clampdown on Czech travellers.
The number of refugee claims from Hungary has soared since last spring, according to data collected by Canada’s Immigration and Refugee Board.
That’s despite months of attempts by Hungarian and Canadian officials to find other ways to better manage the influx.
Numbers began to rise after Canada lifted visa requirements in the spring of 2008, when Hungary joined the European Union. Since the spring of 2009, however, the steady increase turned into a flood.
Immigration Minister Jason Kenney visited Budapest last June and urged his Hungarian counterparts to take steps.
“He raised Canada’s concerns about the growing number of asylum seekers going to Canada,” said Kenney’s spokesman Alykhan Velshi.
Velshi said efforts to collaborate had not produced concrete results. “Thus far, unfortunately, the number has gone up.”
Now, the Eastern European country is among the top three sources of refugee claimants. Claims made every month usually were between 20 and 40 right after the visa requirement was lifted in the spring of 2008. By the fall of 2009, the monthly total was around 200.
Numbers for the final three months of the year have not yet been made public but are expected to show another sharp increase.
At the same time, the board’s approvals of claims have plunged to zero, with many claimants withdrawing or abandoning their claims as they come up for processing.
Velshi said explanations for the spike include: a growing willingness to abuse Canada’s visitors’ process; an increase in human trafficking; or an increase in unscrupulous immigration consultants.
“All of these problems, it’s the responsibility of the Hungarian government to look into,” Velshi said.
That’s not the way Hungary sees it.
The Hungarian government allows its citizens to move about freely, said Imre Halyes, head of consular affairs at the Hungarian embassy in Ottawa. So, if Canada’s refugee system has loopholes inviting abuse, it’s up to Ottawa to fix.
Paul St. Clair, executive director of the Roma Community Centre, in Toronto says Canada should not consider Hungarian refugee claims baseless because Roma are fleeing a “pretty disgusting fascist revival” in Hungary and people are only starting to discover how best to apply for asylum here.
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