Are Hungarian Roma Valid As Refugees In Canada?

Hungarian Roma…

There has been a lot of controversy lately about Immigration Minister Jason Kenny’s plans to change benefits for refugee claimants. One of the most prominent (and largest) groups of refugees the past few years have been Hungarian Roma, so they are a big part of the debate. I was shocked when I first heard this- it was beyond my imagination to think Canada could be accepting refugees from a country within the European union…

I have an intimate relationship with Hungary. It was the first country I lived in when I moved to Europe, I learned the language and integrated myself quite deeply into their culture. Years later, after I moved away, I even returned there to hold my wedding ceremony. I cook a mean gulyás. Needless to say, I love this country, and always look forward to my next trip there.

I’ve had many experiences with the Roma- some good, and some bad. Being a foreigner there, I was a bit of a target, and had many instances where Roma had tried to rob or pickpocket me. Equally, I worked with a truly wonderful Roma man who I am still friends with this day. One can’t judge an entire culture by these experiences- there are both good and bad people in the Roma community.

That said, this is a community with some serious problems- most of them related to poverty. This is a common problem with nomadic cultures around the world- they typically are poorer, less educated, facing issues of racism and exclusion. The Roma face similar problems as Irish Travellers, and the Dom People in the Middle East.

I love the Hungarians- but, will be the first person to admit that many people in their culture are rather racist. Their country has gone through tough times over the past hundred years, they’ve been invaded and repressed by foreigners many times, and they consequently have a difficult time dealing with people who are not like themselves.

If you wish to insult a Hungarian (please don’t try this at home) probably the worst thing you could call them is a “Cigány paraszt” (Gypsy Peasant). So, it’s hard to deny that many Hungarians have problems with the Roma. That said, like most countries, there are as many Hungarians who aren’t racist as who are. The only real difference with the Hungarians is that they are more likely to express it than people in other countries.

But, the Roma aren’t all innocent in this problem- from my experience, a large number of Roma are racist too. My Roma colleague would always remind me of this- and he used to share with me that people in his own community would exclude him because he was working for Hungarians. Regardless of what Canadian radicals like to say, racism is a two-way street- marginalized people can be racist too.

There weren’t very many Roma in Vancouver, so I wasn’t very aware of the influx of Hungarian Roma until I arrived in Toronto. I was shocked when, on my first week here, I saw a Roma woman begging at the entrance to the Dufferin subway station. For a moment I had a flashback to being in Hungary, both because of this sighting, and because the poor quality of the station- it was a rather awakening experience. Since then, I’ve met several Roma, and have twice had the opportunity to help translate for them in my local corner store.

A Roma mother and child begging on a Budapest stairway…

This leads us to the question- should Hungarian Roma be accepted as refugees in Canada?

The Left will answer with an unequivocal yes. They will cite problems with racism and other challenges Hungarian Roma face back at home. They will cite extreme examples like the incidents in the town of Gyöngyöspata, where Hungarian neo-nazis have got into serious confrontations with the Roma population. The Guardian newspaper has made a video about their Roma’s plight in this town- it is a bit one sided, but does give a good idea of what is happening there.

The problem is that this is an extreme example- the majority of Hungarian towns wouldn’t accept this sort of behaviour, and to judge the whole country by one town of ignorant people is inherently unfair. Equally, if the Roma are (sadly) forced to leave this town, there are many places within Hungary, and the rest of the European Union, where they could find a safe haven.

People on the Right have strong reservations about refugees in-general, so they often resort to emotional arguments to make their cases. In the recent controversy about providing medical benefits to refugees, Jason Kenny makes a rather controversial statement:

“That does underscore the reasons why we’ve reformed the Interim Federal Health Program. There’s no doubt that it has been a draw factor for many false asylum claims,”

Personally, I believe that this statement doesn’t apply to immigrants from countries in the European Union. Hungary, for example, has a decent public health service- it could be better, but it is very doubtful people will uproot their families  and travel half-way around the world so they can receive Canadian medical benefits. In fact, from my experience, waiting times are much less at Hungarian hospitals than in Canada. So, if this statement is true, it is only for a minority of Hungarian Roma immigrants.

But, Hungarian Roma still face racism, right? Racism is pervasive across many countries around the world though. The real question is if the Roma face state-sanctioned racism. This is not true in Hungary- in fact, it is quite the opposite these days. The current centre-right Hungarian government has been creating programs to help better integrate the Roma. Additionally, as European citizens, the Roma have full access to the European Court of Human Rights.

So, while it is true that Hungarian Roma face serious challenges in asserting their rights, I don’t believe that promoting immigration is the solution to their problems. There are several hundred thousand Roma in Hungary, and it isn’t possible for us to take them all into Canada. And, as is typical with immigration- the people who leave there tend to be the most motivated and likely to succeed at fixing their country’s problems.

Additionally, immigration will not easily solve the Roma’s problems with integration. The Roma have equal problems relating in Canadian society as they do back in Hungary. This has been shown by the Toronto school systems challenges from the Roma influx. Other new problems with the current wave of immigration include increased incidents of human trafficking an other cases where people take advantage of their newcomer status. Immigration creates as many problems for the Roma as it solves.

Probably the best thing we can do to help the Roma would be to have more Canadians spending time in Hungary. Living there, I was able to have serious conversations with Hungarians about their issues with racism, and was able to succeed at helping many people see past their filters of racist ignorance. I learned many things from the Hungarians too- history, new perspectives, and how to cook some great food. This is the beauty of cultural exchanges- both sides learn and grow.

So, why do so many Roma want to relocate to Canada? It’s simple really, for the same reason that most Portugese, Polish, Czech and other immigrants from poorer parts of the European Union- they are highly motivated by the economic benefits of living in our country. Hungary has gone through some serious economic challenges over the past years, and many Hungarians would like to move here now.Considering this, it isn’t fair to give people a fast-track to immigration based on their race. Many people would see this as being another form of racism…

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    • Stephen Layton Trudeau on August 2, 2012 at 02:38
    • Reply

    Good article. Each refugee case goes by a case by case basis with generalized social evidence presented to either refute or support each individual case.

    It might be a shock that EU refugees exist but look at the Assange case, Arar case, Slobodan case, Omar Khadr case, of the American Taliban john Walker case. Those cases didn’t recieve all the available protections of Western courts.

    Take into account though that the unwritten Canadian policy is to reject most EU/USA/1st World
    claims. The articles justifies the denials with “here are many places within Hungary, and the rest of the European Union, where they could find a safe haven.” which are true. But certain state laws and actions make certain cases viable. example. Anwar Al-Alaki. designated a terrorist for utilizing his speech to inspire alledged terrorist. Later this American citizen placed on a public Kill List. Could American/EU citizens in similar circumstances apply for refuge in Canada? Though safe havens exist, these targets would be hunted down universally. Many have been assasinated publically and many are not known of.

    Humanitarian grounds are an avenue if the clients qualify. If not, deported to thier persecuting nation or voluntary flight elsewhere.

    I can tell you refugee benefits really don’t amount to much. If your in BC $325 for room and board + $125 for sundries doesn’t go along way. + claimants that don’t work or invest socially are often times rejected. Granted benefits increment if people have dependents. Most refugees don’t bank. Really all minister Kenny is doing is saving the budget peanuts the real value is the “get tough” attitude with asylum shoppes.

    Since Greg Renouf loves to follow the money. In 2011, 260K permanent residents were created.
    The fees collected just for Permenent resident fees are some 143 Million to 91 million. Then add the legal fees, taxes, etc. Some refugees will pay upwards of $15k for adequate representation.
    A lot of money is made. If Minister Kenny is culling the benefits of a percentage of the 24K refugees then he’s probably just targeting employment/representation/housing benefits, which alot of third parties feed off.

    Its messed up for refugees whom can’t support themselves. Like missing limbs and suffering from traumas. Eliminating some of their benefits only adds additional stress to their stressful/fearful cases. Hopefully overlapping provincial benefits help, if any. But Canada is probably trying to avoid negative class, cultural, economic problems. Less handouts policies motivates people to work. Messed up social engineering but a reality. Like Friedman said “No free Lunch”. Exactly the immigrant class Canada is looking for people whom will pay their own lunch. Next they’ll be cutting the benefits for indigenous Canadians, after all their crown citizens.

    • Stephen Layton Trudeau on August 2, 2012 at 02:51
    • Reply

    Yeah some Roma are racist. Closed societies, harassment, and experiences define people, nothing unique. And never give them the “eye” (just looking at them for a while). Some of them will react angrily, mumble curse, and say an enchantation to protect themselves. Google it If you think I jest. I’ve seen in. Overall good honest people (not Joke). No different than all humans. + Not all Roma live in vans, some are stationary. Type for more information.

    • TD on August 2, 2012 at 19:23
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    I don’t see why we wouldn’t give them status…. The problem, apart from our debt-based currency system, isn’t Immigration as far as I can tell. It’s our eroding manufacturing sector and our loss of jobs overseas while we import things that could have been made here… We’re giving the others the jobs of putting things together and buy from them but that means we don’t have the jobs here. We even import food into Canada that we could easily grow here… we are shipping our resources out and importing goods made from them in. There aren’t enough jobs for us and the immigrants coming in and I have heard companies hire immigrants because they are willing to work for less…. which, as far as I’m concerned is only a step towards outsourcing to other countries paying slave wages (ie Honda plants in China where workers are paid $128/month + government money… which they had to fight for and is slave wages! SHAME ON YOU HONDA!!! My solution is to STOP ordering things from overseas and START manufacturing them here! STOP importing food and also STOP exporting food (and alot of our other resources) , we need it for our own country why are we growing/raising meat and veges and such for others? They should setup their own farms, at least for raising beef and meat! The more we send out the less we have for food and jobs here!! The immigrants are NOT the problem, our eroding job market is!

    By the way, I’m not saying we can’t sell SOME of our resources but we should be focusing alot of them (that we ARE selling) in use here in Canada.. For instance, sending them to other countries and then bying them back in the form of other products we could have made ourselves.

    Our country is RICH in resources!! Why aren’t we making our own products??!!?? Some say we don’t have the skilled labour… My god, that’s simple to fix!!! Send people overseas or pay people to come here and train us!! They send their kids here, why can’t we get the basic skills the same way? Or we make do with what knowledge we have and build and learn from that…practice makes perfect, they say… Then we can start to rebuild our manufacturing base and be more self-reliant and stronger as a country, our job market will increase there is no excuse I can think of for us not to except the competition wouldn’t like it…. So what? We shouldn’t let them pressure us into having our country go down the drain, we should rebuild our country otherwise we’re gonna end up worse off while they suck us dry!! Hey, if we rebuild ourselves stronger we can even be a better place to live than we are now even people coming here to live would be better off… we just have to make sure our economy is Canada based, not global based.

    • Eva F. Lantos on August 3, 2012 at 14:06
    • Reply

    I found your article very interesting and – I hope you will not find it cheeky – funny, too.
    I’m Hungarian, with some experience in Gipsy (Roma) relations. I think our chance to understand the influx of these immigrants in Canada is not high, unless we understand a few things about their culture.
    Please let me mention that these people are very special, concerning particularly their views on their own behaviour and culture in contrast with the behaviour and culture of other people around them. The Gipsy (Roma) minority appeared in Hungary a few hundred years ago, and they were far from specialized solely in crime. (As for criminals, the rulers of those times taught them the lesson in the hard way.) Gipsies were very good in jobs that matched perfectly with their nomadic lifestyle. They made baskets and other simple household articles, traded in horses, fixed armoury, and their top class comprised quite accomplished entertainers, especially musicians.
    Entertainment is still the profession they appreciate above all. Getting paid for just talking, acting or playing the fiddle is the most appreciated way of earning a living in their book. A professional entertainer well paid for his work is regarded as crème of the crème in Gipsy society. And that is precisely the thing they are involved in now. They do not fancy theoretical approaches to life, they are absolutely practical. They understand Shakespeare’s words about that “All the world’s a stage”, even if they do not even know the play. Still, they play their play, just as they like it. They find nothing wrong with regarding themselves as “merely players”, and acting accordingly on stage. And their stage is the entire world, including Canada.
    That’s what you can see now. The immigrants whose stories may be found “bizarre” or “bogus” simply do not view themselves as liars or criminals abusing the Canadian refugee system. In their eyes, they are just professional performers, paid very well for their performance, from Canadian taxpayers’ pockets. Some guys taught them what to say and how to act as “refugees” to gain sympathy, so they invest in their airplane tickets and go on stage in Canada. And they start to recite the lines they learnt. They do it very well. The fact that they got paid for their performance backs up this opinion of theirs nicely. Wealthy Canadians pay them much better for their performance than poor Hungarians, whose state is indebted, and therefore their benefit system is less generous.
    This is a nice “hide and seek” game in the eyes of Gipsy immigrants. They make statements and declarations full of falsifications and blatant lies, and it is up to Canadian authorities to find evidence. In the meantime, the “refugees” receive benefits in amounts much higher than the wage they could ever obtain for unskilled work back home in Hungary. They complain about being starved, and Canadian newspapers publish this, without any intention to ask questions on how comes that average BMI among adults is well above 25… (By the way, the persons in your picture are definitely not Hungarian Roma, as they are dressed up as Roma from Bulgaria or some other Southern European country.) They claim they are persecuted, and of course “forget” to mention that if so, they are only persecuted for criminal activities, and some of them are already sentenced to a few years in prison, only they fancied to board airplanes en route to Canada instead of knocking at the door of the prison where they had been sent to. It is quite some evidence about how “prejudiced” Hungarian courts are against Gipsy criminals that even after final verdicts for serious crimes committed by career criminals; they are allowed to spend a few more weeks at home with their families. And this treatment is not reserved for first offenders or juvenile offenders, to make it clear.
    Just to give some more “evidence of persecution”, please let me mention that there is a unique characteristic in the Hungarian election system that grants one extra vote to every citizen who belongs with a minority group. They can vote not only in parliamentary elections and when representatives for local municipalities are elected, but also at their own minority elections. Representatives of minorities are elected for every municipality where the respective minority is present. There are 3200 municipalities in Hungary, and there are special Gipsy (Roma) representative bodies in the vast majority of them, all paid quite well from public funds. I do not know any other country in the world, where such parallel minority representative system is in operation, and is fully financed from state budget.
    Well, Shakespeare was right. “All the world’s a stage.” This is especially true for Gipsy (Roma) “refugees” with vivid imagination to cook up nice cock and bull stories about discrimination and racial persecution, elegant nonchalance to leave the toil of finding evidence to Canadian authorities, and a strong financial motive to act as players. Good luck, Canadians!
    Best regards,
    Eva F. Lantos

    • Gooby Pls on August 4, 2012 at 09:05
    • Reply

    Lets not forget the fact that Roma will also bring an influx of crime along with their large numbers into our somewhat innocent country. Everything from physical crime such as your cited pickpocketting and robberies, to scams, to cyber crime, and lets not forget that the main producers and distributors of heroin and all things poppy in Eastern Europe are also Roma. The truth is everyone in Europe racist against each other, so this isn’t something that should be used as an excuse. Hostility exists EVERYWHERE in Europe, just as it exists in small forms here in Canada. Unless there are qualified Roma people who are professional and could contribute something to Canada’s economical or cultural well-being, I don’t think they should even be considered into Canada to begin with, and saying otherwise is just useless yuppie liberal propaganda; and once the crime rate increases, and you have to keep your eyes open on the subway instead of being able to sleep and be left alone because there was an increase in thefts, then you’ll blame the “conservatives” for not doing enough to curb crime. This goes back and forth until you realize your “humanity” does more harm than good. I am an immigrant as well, from Eastern Europe too, I don’t remember any good encounters with Roma either there or here, so I am speaking as unbiased as I could possibly muster myself up to be. Canada isn’t one of those countries where the nomadic lifestyle can thrive, and you can just gather what you need from the wild, and steal some off your neighbor if you need it.. This is a developed and progressive country where our parents pay taxes, once we are stable to hold a job then we pay taxes, and everything is accounted for. There are no “free rides” in Canada, regardless of what your culture dictates; because if all Canadians just roamed in the wild on horseback and stole everything we could get our hands on, we wouldn’t be such a desirable place to live in. Every country that accommodates Gypsies has went to shit.. Even where the Gypsies themselves came from.

    • Lisa A-Antolcic on August 7, 2012 at 01:42
    • Reply

    Yea, you know, criminal is stamped on my forehead, right next to “gypsy”.
    Most of the time, you would not know a “gypsy”, which may I add is a highly offensive racial slur, from any other person on the street, Most of us try so hard to blend in to American & Canadian society.
    I am a college education Romani woman living in America who has never once committed a crime. I have a lovely Romani family & Romani community here. We are hard-working & law-abiding citizens & the a large number of us have completed higher education. Gee, who could imagine? An educated “gypsy”? Oh man, you must have had some sorry life to be so hateful.

    P.S. If you are going to write about us, at least get your facts straight. We are NOT “the Roma”. “The Roma” is a sub-group of our ethnic population. We are the ROMANI.

    1. I agree with you that most people of the Romani community are not criminals- this is true for all communities. BTW, in Canada, the community uses the word Roma to refer to themselves. Have a look at their website…

    • lorne on August 29, 2012 at 19:54
    • Reply

    sadly the roma that have arrived in britain are causing problems every were,just google,from squatting,begging,pick pocketing,prostitution, it,s time they cut the crap and faced the truth, they do not wish to join society and play the victim card often

    • lorne on August 29, 2012 at 20:01
    • Reply

    lisa….please visit europe and see how your cousins behave,,,,i promise you,you will be embarrased…it is not a conspiracy of hate, they really do bring it on them selves

    • Kristina Nagy on November 25, 2012 at 20:47
    • Reply

    The Roma people have been prosecuted, blamed for all evil, and discriminated against throughout history. Just like the Jewish people.

    ” If you wish to insult a Hungarian (please don’t try this at home) probably the worst thing you could call them is a “Zsido paraszt” (Jew Peasant).”

    Shocked? All I did was to substitute “Gypsy” for “Jew”. You can hear both variations as common swear words in Hungary today on a daily basis.

    I was born in Hungary and fled the country as a child with my parents so I can legimitaly say that I have a more wide-eyed and as unbiased opinion as anyone could.

    Antisemitism and Roma-hatred is all over Eastern Europe. I am ashamed of my heritage.

    Kristina Nagy

    [email protected]

    • xyz on February 20, 2013 at 05:25
    • Reply

    we have the same problem in Germany. In some countries like Bulgaria, there are some well-integrated People with a roma background.

    Not all Roma people have problems like a lack of education. But in Germany we have thousands of Roma Immigrants and many of them stay here, because of our welfare system. It is very comfortable in Germany to live without any working opportunity. With a big family (4 and more Children) such a familiy can get more money with social welfare than with work. That`s a big problem here in Germany I tink. I live in a part of a bigger city, where 43% of people and 61% of children are living with social transfers. That are not all Roma people, but most of them are immigrants, people from 16,17 countries all over the world. Most of them are not integrated in the normal job market. That is a parallel economy I think. They often have nothing to do with Germans.

    Many of the new Roma Immigrants here are importing such problems, too. There are waste problems now in some of the quarters – big mountains of garbage in such quarters, where they stay. But Germans like it clean and without Garbage mountains in the streets.

    I think, some of the Roman people cannot be integrated in modern societies. That is an own culture and some of them don`t want that, too.

    It is better to have middle class immigrants — the country is not important, but education and other factors. It is very hard to integrate people from an underclass background without any literacy and other problems.

    And normally Hungary is a part of modern European Countries and here are many Institutions who take a look to human rights in Europe. Also in the European Parliament there are some politicians with Roma Background. If there is a structural discrimination why could they become a politician in countries like Hungary?

    There are always two sides of Integration.

    Sorry for my bad English. Have a nice day!

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