Wednesday, July 15, 2009

All Refugees are Equal...

...But some are more equal than others.

For Mr. Kenney, it wouldn't be necessary to impose visa restrictions to stem the flow of asylum-seekers if false claimants knew before coming that their cases would be heard swiftly and they would be returned home immediately after a decision was made.

"This does underscore the need to reform our asylum system so that it ensures that real victims of persecution get swift relief and protection in Canada, and that economic migrants seeking to abuse our generosity are shown to the door quickly," he said.

Of course systematic economic discrimination against specific ethnic or religious groups is real persecution. But no Conservative or Liberal MP could ever concede that point. For the same reason that Canada is one of the last countries on Earth that hasn't signed on to the the U.N.'s declaration of indigenous rights.

NAFTA, a trade agreement that Canada is a signatory to, has caused massive economic dislocation in the lives of Mexican farmers with indigenous Mexican suffering some the worst of it. Economic persecution is still persecution.

The Roma of Czechoslovakia, crudely known as Gypsies, may not be facing the torch-wielding mobs that make up far too much of Roma history but they are unambiguously situated at the permanent bottom rung of Czechoslovakia's social and economic totem pole.

Today, six million out of the estimated 10 million European Roma live in Central and Eastern Europe.

Up to two million are to be found in Romania, whose established Roma slave markets horrified Western travellers until as late as the 19th Century.

Decades of communism and the recent admission of Eastern countries into the EU seem to have made little difference to their history of exclusion and poverty.

Most Roma families live in small shacks with no electricity or running water, and international institutions calculate that Roma poverty rates are up to 10 times higher than those of the majority population where they live, while their lifespan is 10 or 15 years lower.

I would argue that taken alone economic discrimination on this scale would have to be considered legitimate grounds to claim refugee status, economic persecution is still persecution, But its not the only kind of persecution Roma are subjected to.

At a shelter just outside Toronto, Zaneta Gananova lifted up her shirt to show why she fled the Czech Republic.

Gananova, a young mother of six, revealed two swastikas, purple scars that she says were carved into her body two months ago by a group of skinheads.

"It was very bad. I didn't want to go out," she said. "I was afraid for my children, and for my life. I thought they would kill me."

Marek Polak, 24, said he no longer worries when he heads outside to take a walk in his new home in Hamilton. When he was 17 and was out for a walk in Prague, he said, his life changed.

"And I turn around and I saw four skinheads, like around me," he said. "They started to say to me, 'Hey Gypsy, today you will die,'" Polak said, using a once-common term for a Rom.

Polak said the men threw him to the ground, then punched him and kicked him, all the while yelling racial slurs. He ended up in hospital for a week. His mother, Anna Polakova, decided to move her family to Canada two months ago.

"It was a very hard decision for us. We had our life in the Czech Republic," she said. "But when they beat my son, and the continued attacks in the years that followed, I knew we had to leave."
These are the people Immigration Minister Jason Kenney says aren't discriminated against in Chekoslovakia. That they are just 'economic migrants seeking to abuse our generosity'.

. . .

This seems to me to be an essential misunderstanding of the meaning of the word 'generosity'.

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