Canada set to automatically reject Hungarian Roma asylum claims

By Lynn Hutchinson Lee

Here is a letter RCC has just sent to the governors & administrators of Haifa University, Israel, who are conferring an honorary doctorate on Jason Kenney. Letter is v. long – see below:

Dear Mr. Charney, Mr. Ayalon, Mr. Shapira, Professor Faraggi and Mr.
Gaver: Roma Community Centre (RCC; http://www.romatoronto.org/) is a not-for-profit organization dedicated to helping newly arrived and Canadian Roma.
Part of our mandate is to raise awareness about the ongoing abuses of human rights of the Romani people and Europe’s rapidly growing neo-Nazi movements that promote anti-Roma racism, persecution and hate. It is with great dismay that our organisation has learned that Haifa University intends to confer an honorary doctorate, in Toronto on November 4, upon Canadian Minister for Citizenship and Immigration Jason Kenney. According to the Canadian Friends of Haifa University website, among several reasons cited, this award is being granted “in recognition of his steadfast position against antisemitism, racism and intolerance”. We feel it is imperative to share with you our concerns about Mr. Kenney’s position on Hungarian Roma refugees now seeking safety in Canada, particularly in light of the nationalist, extreme right and neo-Nazi paramilitary movements in Hungary. Please refer to: It is with great dismay that our organisation has learned that Haifa University intends to confer an honorary doctorate, in Toronto on November 4, upon Canadian Minister for Citizenship and Immigration Jason Kenney. According to the Canadian Friends of Haifa University website, among several reasons cited, this award is being granted “in recognition of his steadfast position against antisemitism, racism and intolerance”. We feel it is imperative to share with you our concerns about Mr. Kenney’s position on Hungarian Roma refugees now seeking safety in Canada, particularly in light of the nationalist, extreme right and neo-Nazi paramilitary movements in Hungary. Please refer to: http://www.tabletmag.com/jewish-news-and-politics/96716/meet-europes-new-fascists, ‘Meet Europe’s New Fascists – Hungary’s far-right activists used to rally in the streets. Now they’re in parliament, where their party, Jobbik, is stoking hatred of Jews and Roma’). Disturbing information about Mr. Kenney, which may not be known to you, is that he was honoured at a Croatian event in Canada, (http://youtu.be/BtHVhfjXcS4) during which he said that „I have in my office a prayer card with a picture of Cardinal Stepinac….he was one of the great heroes of the 20th century“. As you may know, Cardinal Stepinac was a pro-Nazi war criminal and supporter of the Nazi satellite regime (Ustasha) in Croatia (http://www.jpost.com/Features/InThespotlight/Article.aspx?id=169378).
In 1943, Stepinac was found guilty of Nazi collaboration.
Mr. Kenney has publicly stated that Roma refugee claims are ‘bogus’, and that Hungary is a safe place for Roma. On December 2, 2011, he insisted on Hungarian television that Roma suffer ‘occasional acts of discrimination.’ The truth is far different – a web of well-documented, systemic racism and persecution: • entry into Parliament and increasing influence of a far-right, anti-Roma, anti-Jewish party called Jobbik (http://jonestream.blogspot.ca/2010/09/hungary-roma.html);
• illegal segregated and substandard schooling for Roma children;
• grossly inequitable access to adequate housing, employment and health care
(see “Poor, abused and second-class:
the Roma living in fear in Hungarian village” at http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2012/jan/27/hungary-roma-living-in-fear),
• Jobbik leader Gabor Vona’s proposal to remove Roma children from their families, and place them in residential schools;
• Jobbik MEP Csanad Szegedi’s advocacy of ‘public order protection camps’ for Roma (http://www.irishtimes.com/newspaper/world/2010/0903/1224278127884.htl);
• the introduction of labour camps, under police supervision, for Roma (http://www.theglobalmail.org/feature/official-terror-for-hungarys-roma/35/:
‘Torchlit marches, school segregation and talk of labour camps has Roma fearing for their lives after far-right party Jobbik came to power in Gyöngyöspata’).
• ongoing threats and acts of violence by neo-Nazi vigilantes now increasing. Please refer to: (http://hungarianwatch.wordpress.com/2011/03/18/neo-nazis-terrorize-roma-in-hungarian-village/; ‘Hungary: Murders of Roma people were planned’; http://www.examiner.com/article/new-expulsions-persecution-of-roma-have-some-warning-hitler-was-not-alone).
We urge you to take a few minutes of your time to look at video documentation shot during the 2011 neo-Nazi Civil Guard occupation of the Romani neighbourhood of Gyongyospata, a village in Hungary. Please go to (http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2012/jan/27/hungary-roma-living-in-fear)
You will see: • a Romani woman quoting a neo-Nazi threat: “I will build my house with your blood” (0:28); • neo-Nazi Jobbik rally in Gyöngyöspata (0:45 – 1:28); • a Romani man stating that “we will move out of Gyöngyöspata, take our children and family because we have been terrorized for two months” (4:38); • neo-Nazi Alex proudly announcing that he is urinating on the ground in the shape of a swastika (4:57 – 5:04); • election of far-right Jobbik mayor in Gyöngyöspata (7:34 – 8:01); • concluding text: “67 Roma villagers have left to claim asylum in Canada” (8:06 – 8:10). Administrators and Governors, this brings us back to Jason Kenney: did Canada grant asylum to those villagers from Gyöngyöspata fleeing neo-Nazism? Or did we send them back to Hungary, as we sent Jews back to Nazi Germany in 1939?
• A June 15, 2012, Globe and Mail newspaper article by Canadians Bernie Farber, Philip Berger and Clayton Ruby (respectively a prominent Jewish advocate, doctor and lawyer) states that “… with resurgence of neo-Nazism in parts of Hungary and elsewhere in Europe, Roma face violent attacks. Many have tried to flee to Canada, where doors have once again become hard to pry open … Today, we go on record as Jews and descendants of immigrants to say that we oppose cuts to refugee health care and the designation of so-called ‘safe’ countries …. As Jews and human rights activists, we know well that countries deemed safe for the majority can be deadly for some minorities.” (http://www.theglobeandmail.com/commentary/no-real-refuge-in-canada-for-some-refugees/article4265006/)
• On July 16, Bernie Farber wrote of Mr. Kenney’s legislative proposal in Huffington Post, “One of the more pernicious elements of the new Immigration and Refugee Bill C-31 is the so-called ‘Designated Safe Country’ (DSO) rule.” He continues, “I am proud of my own community for standing shoulder to shoulder with the Roma over many decades of persecution. Historically both our communities understood the ultimate expression of hatred; for us it was the Holocaust or in Hebrew the Shoah; for the Roma, the only other group targeted by the Nazis for extermination, it was called the ‘Porajmos’ or the ‘Devouring.’” (http://www.huffingtonpost.ca/bernie-farber/roma refugee_b_1673647.html)
• A March 5, 2009, letter from the Simon Wiesenthal Centre to Hungarian President László Sólyom stated that “in ‚Judenrein‘ (ethnically cleansed of Jews) Eastern Europe where the Holocaust succeeded, antisemitism persists as a phantom pain syndrome – the body still seeks to scratch the missing limb.” A press statement (“Solidarity with Roma after pogrom in Hungary”) said the letter identified “today’s target of hate” as “the Roma community – over 700,000 people in Hungary alone. Also marked for extermination by the Nazis, scapegoated for the current economic crisis by neo-Nazis, Gypsophobia must not become acceptable to the mainstream in Eastern Europe in the way that antisemitism has become an epidemic in the West.” (http://www.wiesenthal.com/site/apps/s/content.asp c=lsKWLbPJLnF&b=4442915&ct=6820613)
On August 18 the Globe and Mail reported that Canada is now taking steps to detain Roma refugee claimants while awaiting more aggressive immigration policies to shut off the flow of Roma admitted to Canada. (http://www.theglobeandmail.com/news/politics/federal-government-considers-detaining-roma-refugee-claimants-report-suggests/article4487855/)
Volunteers at Roma Community Centre have heard that perhaps 75 Roma are already in detention. In an August 25 open letter to Mr. Kenney and Canadian Prime minster Stephen Harper, RCC Executive Director Gina Csanyi-Robah outlined the current political climate in Hungary: “Jobbik, an extreme right-wing ultra-nationalist political part, which openly expresses hatred and promotes violence toward the Roma and Jewish minorities in Hungary, is currently the second largest political party operating in Hungary” http://www.euronews.com/newswires/1635714-hungarys-far-right-calls-for-zero-tolerance-against-roma/; http://geocurrents.info/place/europe/hungarys-rising-hyper-nationalist-jobbik-party-and-the-legacy-of-anti-semitism-and-anti-gypsyism).
The RCC continues: “Many of the small cities, towns, and villages in Hungary, especially where there is a significant concentration of Roma living, now have mayors and city councillors that are members of the Jobbik party. In 2009, when the Hungarian government made a move to ban the Hungarian Guards, Jobbik political party leader, Mr. Gabor Vona, taunted Prime Minister Viktor Orban and the ruling Fidez party by wearing the banned Hungarian Guards uniform to the Hungarian National Assembly the very next day. He was applauded by the 47 Jobbik (21%) Members of Parliament ….
This past Saturday (August 25), thousands of uniformed Hungarian Guards carrying the Arrow Cross flag of the WWII Hungarian Nazis marched up Andrassy Utca, the street famous for its international embassies, toward the landmark Hero’s Square in central Budapest.” Nazi Germany – 1930’s; Neo-Nazis, Hungary – 2000’s In the Nazi era, up to 1.5 million Roma were murdered (International Organisation for Migration, November 2001). Simon Wiesenthal, in a 1984 letter to the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Council, wrote: “The Gypsies had been murdered in a proportion similar to the Jews, about 80% of them in the area of the countries which were occupied by the Nazis.” In 2010 Jobbik took more parliamentary seats in Hungary than any other far-right party since the Nazi era.
The following year, on March 1, 2011, the Hungarian neo-Nazi vigilante group Civil Guard took control of a Romani neighbourhood in the village of Gyöngyöspata, where they set up checkpoints at the entrance to the neighbourhood and formed a human chain around the houses of Romani residents. On March 17, the European Roma Rights Centre wrote to Hungarian authorities, reporting that the Civil Guard patrols “threaten (Romani residents) with weapons and dogs, and follow them every time they leave their houses, unimpeded by local police … The patrols have been supported by the far-right political party Jobbik, which organized a march of thousands through the village in black military uniform on March 6th. Finally, the (Civil Guard) indicated that … they will also set up chapters in other towns to expand their patrols.” Richard Field writes that on July 25 2102, “the Bekes county court rejected the public prosecutor’s request that the so-called Civil Guard…. the paramilitary organization behind last year’s anti-Roma disturbances be disbanded”.
Two anti-Roma demonstrations followed. (http://www.budapesttimes.hu/2012/08/31/right-wing-guardsmen-violent-threat-to-democracy/)
In addition to the open letter mentioned above, since June RCC members have sent Mr. Kenney the following information: • June 18, 2012: the Washington Post reported that Nobel Peace Prize laureate and Holocaust survivor Elie Wiesel (himself a recipient of an Honorary Doctorate from Haifa University) repudiated the Grand Cross Order of Merit he received from Hungary in 2004, after learning that Budapest officials had attended a recent ceremony for Jozef Nyiro, a WW II Hungarian parliamentarian and Nazi sympathizer. In a letter to Hungarian Parliamentary Speaker Lazlo Kover, Mr. Wiesel expressed his dismay at the presence of the Speaker, along with Hungarian Secretary of State for Culture Geza Szocs, and leader of the far-right Jobbik party Gabor Vona, at the ceremony. (In 2007 Vona founded Magyar Garda, the paramilitary organization that in March 2011 terrorized the Roma community in Gyongyospata, Hungary.) (http://www.washingtonpost.com/national/apnewsbreak-elie-wiesel-rejects-hungarian-honor-after-rite-for-fascist ideologue/2012/06/18/gJQApynZlV_ story.html; http://www.cbsnews.com/8301-201_162-57455293/elie-wiesel-returns-hungarian-government-award-over-officials-attending-nazi-sympathizer-ceremony/).
• August 6, 2012: a press statement from the Simon Wiesenthal Centre was issued on the 68th anniversary of the Porrajmos (‘Devouring’), the Nazi genocide of Roma and Sinti.
In the press statement, a letter from Wiesenthal Centre’s Director for International Relations, Dr. Shimon Samuels, to the Council of Europe’s Commissioner for Human Rights, Nils Muiznieks, stated that “the common fate of Jews and Gypsies determined by the Nazi race theorists led the late Simon Wiesenthal to work closely with Roma and Sinti survivors.” Concerning Hungary, the press statement says: “The Centre pointed to ‘its particular focus on Hungary, due to the infiltration of hate into the mainstream politics of that country and even its representatives at the European Parliament.’
Sadly, we have yet to receive an adequate response regarding our appeals to the Hungarian authorities for effective counter-action.”
Administrators and Governors of Haifa University, you may know that in 1939, Canada turned back a ship carrying 900 Jews to face the Nazi Holocaust.
A Canadian immigration official at the time said of Jewish asylum seekers fleeing Nazi Germany that “None is too many.” Given the well-documented growth of ultra-right violence against Jews and Roma in Hungary, we believe that the Roma deserve a better reception from Canada than that given to Jews in 1939. Distressingly, “None is too many” seems to inform the current federal government’s policy on Roma refugees. In spite of the information presented above (and more), Jason Kenney continues to malign Roma as making ‘bogus’ refugee claims with designs on Canada’s social services, and still upholds Hungary as a safe place for this vulnerable and persecuted minority. (http://www.cireport.ca/2012/08/haemorrhage-of-hungarian-roma-bogus-refugee-claims-trigger-amendments-to-the-refugee-system.html)
In conclusion, we invite you to contrast Mr. Kenney’s approach with that of U.S. Secretary of State Hilary Clinton, in her press statement commemorating International Roma Day, April 8, 2012: “They are segregated, beaten, and systematically discriminated against. They are denied access to an education and to jobs. Despite a decade of progress, during this global economic downturn incidents of anti-Roma rhetoric and violence are on the rise…
We believe governments have a special responsibility to ensure that members of the Roma community – and all minority communities – have the tools to succeed as productive members of society.” (The full text is attached to this message.)
As well, please find attached an image: ‘Germany 1932; Hungary 2012’, as well as a list of documented neo-Nazi hate groups in Hungary (http://www.athenainstitute.eu/en/hate_groups/). In light of Mr. Kenney’s continued refusal to acknowledge the seriousness of the clear and growing neo-Nazi threat in Hungary, and in light of the documented information we have provided, we respectfully ask: is this a person upon whom Haifa University wishes to confer an Honorary Doctorate?

Lynn Hutchinson Lee, Roma, artist and activist in Canada.

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