Roma Refugees: How Canadian Taxpayers Are Subsidizing The European Union (feat. Cheri DiNovo & Nahlah Ayed)

Cheri DiNovo- Funding the EU welfare state with Canadian dollars...

Cheri DiNovo- Funding the EU welfare state with Canadian dollars…

One of the first things I noticed when I moved to Toronto was how often I heard people speaking Hungarian. There’s hardly been a day I’ve not heard them- at a store, on the bus, or someone talking on a cell phone. My Hungarian is getting a bit rusty after so many years so I sometimes eavesdrop- it’s a great way to get some practice and reminisce of the great years I spent living in Hungary.

My jaw dropped to the ground when I first heard that most of these Hungarians were Roma people who arrived as refugees. “What happened” I thought, “Has there been some war or revolution someone forgot to tell me about?

So I checked the news and started to put the pieces together. People on the left claim that Hungary is a predominantly racist country and there’s nowhere safe for Roma people to live there. Right-leaning Canadians are saying that the Roma are only coming to Canada for the money. Both sides are as equally right as they are wrong- and both are missing a very important fact…

I’ll leave you hanging on that for a moment- first, let me give some more background…

Hungarians call their country Magyarország. Literally translated, it means country of the Magyars-  a distinct race of people who compose 92.3% of the country’s population. In comparison, 1.9% of the country’s population is Roma. So, out of 10 million Hungarians, only 190,000 are Roma. Politically, the Roma have very little power.

Are Hungarians more racist than other cultures? After living and working there for three years, I have to say that they are- at least, more overtly so. Many Magyars have anger and hate for the Roma- equally, many Roma have anger and hate the Magyars. And, from my experiences walking through Budapest with an African-American friend, both sides are completely freaked out by black people. Much of Hungary’s roots comes from the peasantry- peasants aren’t well known for their tolerance towards outsiders.

Racial tensions have got quite high in a few towns. The most publicised incidents have been in Gyöngyöspata, a village of 2,600 people not far from the Slovakian border- 80% are Magyar and 20% are Roma. Some local jackasses have put together Magyar militias who march around the city intimidating the Roma. What happened there was unquestionably a horrible situation.

That said, Gyöngyöspata became world famous because it’s an anomaly- you’ll not find uniformed Magyar nationalists marching through most Hungarian towns. The Roma in this town had a genuine reason to be concerned about gang violence. But, Roma in most towns and cities do not. 600 Roma live in Gyöngyöspata- that’s 1/3 of one percent of Hungary’s Roma population, hardly representative.

Nahlah Ayed did a segment about the Roma on CBC’s the National, following a Roma family as they emigrated from Hungary to Canada. The film starts-off with pictures of the militias in Gyöngyöspata- scary, intentionally shocking images. She painted a picture that Hungary is a racist, and potentially violent, nation of people who are collectively punishing all Roma.

Ayed’s film made a similar statement about Canada:

“Hateful racism against the Roma exists in Canada too- they seem as unwanted here as they are in Hungary”

She based this on the fact that some people believe that the Roma are a criminal race. People who make blanket statements about any race of people like that are displaying extreme ignorance. A Roma musician being interviewed on Ayed’s film explained this ignorance well when he said:

“When you call a race criminal, you’re calling me a criminal, you’re calling my daughter a criminal. You’re calling everyone a criminal.”

It’s a shame Ayed didn’t heed this man’s advice. The picture she painted of Hungary was equally as unfair as anyone who labels all of Hungary as a dangerously racist country. Unfortunately, it seems like many people campaigning on behalf of Roma refugees are making this critical mistake.

NDP Member of Provincial Parliament Cheri DiNovo has been very vocally in favour of the Roma being classified as refugees. She made a rather illogical speech in the legislature back in February. Here’s an excerpt:

“They were there for another reason too, and that’s a draconian bill that’s being brought in by the federal government under the auspices of Jason Kenney, Bill C-31. It’s a bill that will limit even more Roma people from being able to seek refugee by the federal government under the auspices of Jason Kenney, Bill C-31. It’s a bill that will limit even more Roma people from being able to seek refugee status in this country; we only accept 2% of those who are applying now.

First, it becomes obvious this is a partisan issue- DiNovo’s interests in the plight of the Roma are politically valuable to both her and her party. Then, notice how Canada accepts 2% of the Roma people applying for refugee status. Knowing that Gyöngyöspata, the worst-case, is 1/3 of one percent of Hungary’s Roma population- this number could make sense.

But, DiNovo seriously loses all credibility in her next paragraph:

I also remind the members that Roma were victims of the Holocaust as well: Two million Roma were killed by the Nazis during the Holocaust years. The least we can do is to accept those who are already being faced with deportation from home countries, who are faced with imprisonment and violence and draconian laws throughout Europe.

DiNovo’s superfluous use of the Nazis wins her a Godwin’s Law prize- there is no relevance in mentioning the Holocaust in this situation. Her statements about Roma ‘being faced with deportation from home countries’ is absurd- European Union citizens cannot be deported from their home countries. I’ve also never heard of Roma being imprisoned based on their race in the European Union.

But, what’s most absurd about DiNovo’s statement is her accusation about their being ‘draconian laws throughout Europe’. DiNovo is seriously out of touch with reality- you can’t make this stuff up.

The fact is that all Europeans are protected by the European Convention On Human Rights– a document similar to Canada’s Charter of Human Rights. In the case where these rights are broken, all EU citizens have the opportunity to file a complaint at the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg. Most people I’ve asked believe that EU citizens have more rights than Canadians.

One of those rights is the right of movement across European Union countries. If an EU citizen decides to move to another country, all they have to do is move there- in most countries they are considered residents after three months.  Some countries, including The Netherlands, withhold social services benefits until this three months has passed.

This is a big part of why Roma people find it to be preferable to move to Canada- refugees in this country have much quicker access to housing and income. According to an article in the Globe & Mail, one family of four Roma refugees had a monthly social services income of $2,500. Their rent was $1,000 per month- this leaves them with $1,500 for food and other expenses. This doesn’t sound like a lot of money to most Canadians. But, for people moving from a small village in a remote part of an economically depressed country, it’s a significant boost in lifestyle.

If a Roma family of four flies from Budapest to Toronto on discount fares, the tickets would cost about $2,500. Thanks to the magic of Europe’s discount airlines, that same family could get to Amsterdam for less than $250. Considering this economic barrier, why would they chose to come to Canada? Are we less racist here than The Netherlands?

A family from Gyöngyöspata who have $2,500 have an ample amount of money to move to a different Hungarian city. They also wouldn’t face the barrier of learning a new language, country, laws and rules. Equally, they could move to France, Holland, the UK or one of the 23 other European countries. They’d be closer to their home, friends and extended family than if they moved to Toronto.

Besides the cheaper (and more accessible) transportation, there’s one key difference between moving to Canada or another EU country. In Canada, Roma are classified as refugees- giving them quicker access to state funds and a wider selection of social services and benefits. It’s a smart investment to pay the extra airfare to Canada.

If the Europeans weren’t laughing at Canada’s naïveté, they’d probably be deeply offended with us right now. Because, by accepting EU passport holders as refugees, we are in essence saying that the European Union is a dangerous violator of human rights. The entire premise of this argument is preposterous.

But, the Europeans aren’t offended, instead, they’re laughing all the way to the bank. Dutch taxpayers are happy that family didn’t move to Amsterdam. In essence, by accepting as Roma refugees- Canadians are subsidizing social problems inside the EU. It’s no wonder so many Europeans view Canadians as a naive culture.

More importantly, the people supporting the Roma as refugees in Canada are making a mockery out of the refugee system and making the situation worse for real refugees in the future. Bill C-31 (a reaction to this mockery) will result in genuine refugees facing the risk of being put into prison on their arrival. That bill is (obviously) too draconian- if even a single family of genuine refugees had to go through this process it will be a great tragedy.

It would be easy to try and put the blame the current situation on Roma who come to Canada making false claims- but, it would also be very unfair. The real focus should be on the people who are enabling this unfortunate charade  People like Cheri DiNovo and Nahlah Ayed who are only telling us part of the story- and missing out on the ‘little’ details like the fact that Roma have full rights of mobility across the EU.

The politicians (on both sides) benefit by pleasing their voters, the voters get a (fake) feel-good vibe- the Roma will eventually become citizens and support DiNovo through eternity. Meanwhile, real refugees are out there suffering.

That sucks…


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    • The Hammer on December 23, 2012 at 08:13
    • Reply

    This isn’t new and the Hungary is not the first. The Czech Republic has been encouraging their Roma population to move to Canada for over 10 years. A few years ago, with the global economic downturn, the stream of Czech Roma turnde into a torrent:

    The Hungarian government is now following the Czech lead. As has the Slovak government. Romania and Bulgaria have been trying to push their Roma populations on France:

    And, as expected, the Toronto Star has jumped on the Roma bandwagon too:–roma-in-hungary-feel-persecuted-but-they-have-nowhere-to-turn

    • stephen reeves on December 23, 2012 at 08:19
    • Reply

    If we can house and feed refugees why cannot we house and feed the homeless already here in Toronto ????

    1. That’s an excellent question- one I’ve been wondering myself too…

    • The Hammer on December 23, 2012 at 09:04
    • Reply

    Furthermore. If a majority of Canadians do not care enough about Canadian homelessness what makes the NDP think they care about Roma refugees from Central Europe.

    1. They’re just trying to bulk-up their NDP ridings with new NDP voters…

    • brotherwolf1 on December 23, 2012 at 11:56
    • Reply

    When Bob Rae quit the NDP party to join the Liberal party, he said that the NDP was never going to be anything more than a a second rate protest party, or words to that effect. The NDP is in fact nothing but a throw back to the old protest movement that never has and never will accomplish anything of any use or value.

    • Duguld on December 23, 2012 at 13:59
    • Reply

    Actually Greg, you’re wrong. An EU citizen can live in another country for up to 3 months but must leave at the end of that time if they are unemployed or unable to support themselves.

    1. True- but people who can afford the airfare to Canada can also afford to pay for 3 months of housing and expenses in a new country…

        • Doug on December 23, 2012 at 16:57
        • Reply

        But if they don’t get a job they have to leave after those 3 months. EU mobility rules are only related to employment – if you can’t find a job you have to leave and Roma face serious employment discrimination in Europe.

    • Duguld on December 23, 2012 at 14:20
    • Reply

    According to article 45.3 of the TFEU:

    It [freedom of movement] shall entail the right, subject to limitations justified on grounds of public policy, public security or public health:
    (a) to accept offers of employment actually made;
    (b) to move freely within the territory of Member States for this purpose;
    (c) to stay in a Member State for the purpose of employment in accordance with the provisions governing the employment of nationals of that State laid down by law, regulation or administrative action;
    (d) to remain in the territory of a Member State after having been employed in that State, subject to conditions which shall be embodied in implementing regulations to be drawn up by the Commission.

    And here you can see one European analyst opining on the LACK of welfare mobility in the EU.

    So you see, Greg, mobility rights are conditional on employment – and the Roma face employment discrimination throughout the EU- meaning the second half of your post is built upon a false premise.

    1. Like everything in Europe, it’s not black & white. For example, if a EU Roma family moved to Germany the parents wouldn’t qualify for social assistance, but there would be money for the children. There are many sources of money and support available in EU most countries- both public and private. France was recently in quite a mess about their treatment of Roma immigrants- but, they’re fixing that now.

      I notice that you didn’t provide a link backing your claims that Roma face employment discrimination throughout the EU. The truth is that, of course, there are incidents of employment discrimination- but that’s more often based on language than race. Roma in Canada will face the exact same challenges in Canada- it won’t be any different here.

      Roma from Romania & Bulgaria do face some extra hurdles until the end of 2013. There were restrictions on the employment of people from these countries as part of their easing into the EU. Regardless, they aren’t part of the problem I’m writing about here- they also need visas, so aren’t so much of an issue in Canada like Roma from Hungary, Czech, etc who don’t need visas. That said, when this changes, Canada’s challenges will surely grow…

        • Doug on December 23, 2012 at 17:16
        • Reply

        Here’s a link. I don’t think things have changed much since 2009 “The Roma community suffers massive discrimination throughout Europe. Denied their rights to housing, employment, healthcare and education, Roma are often victims of forced evictions, racist attacks and police ill-treatment.

        Living predominantly on the margins of society, Roma are among the most deprived communities in Europe. In some countries, they are prevented from obtaining citizenship and personal documents required for social insurance, health care and other benefits.

        Romani children are frequently unjustifiably placed in “special schools” where curtailed curricula limit their possibilities for fulfilling their potential.”

    • brotherwolf1 on December 24, 2012 at 09:54
    • Reply

    Greg, great article, as usual. I do have a question that I think you may be the best person to answer. While there is discrimination against the Roma people, I am wondering if this is a product of their own doing ? I live in an area where there is a very significant number of Roma persons and from what I have seen, very few, if any actually work, most if not all are greatly uneducated. i had a chance to speak with one person who had poor English skills but was able to converse.. He told me himself that they have little use or desire for education . ( I am paraphrasing the words ) If this is indeed true, then yes, i can see how many countries would see them as a problem inn that they would contribute little to nothing to the society in general , but this is only my thinking. I would appreciate your thoughts since you have recent, direct first hand knowledge of this situation .

    • Jenny on February 2, 2014 at 04:52
    • Reply

    This is a European welfare system problem. In Germany 46% of the immigrants from Romania and Bulgaria have no qualification, only 19% have got a Higher Education. That means, that in some months or weeks most of these get social welfare. Our workingmarket don`t need so many people without education and qualification. We have round about 7 Mio. People who get social welfare. 5 Mio. of them are adults who don`t find a work. And now we get new unemployed people and new people who will earn only low wages, but health care and everything is paid from tax payers. Europe has got too many people without qualification and now they come to Germany. We have also so many unemployed people, here, especially from countries like turkey. That is a big problem for our future, here. What should a hightech economy do with people without qualifikation or who are illiterate?

    • Jenny on February 2, 2014 at 05:24
    • Reply

    in Germany the immigration policy is totally wrong. Today you get more money, when producing children with money from the social system than with work!!! Really!!!

    if i would produce more than two children and go to the welfare state, than in Germany i have hundreds Euros more than with work in a white collar middle class job!!! That is no joke!

    in Germany a higher court decide, that an employee like police officer must only earn 15% more than a family with children who life from welfare.

    only 15%, and in reality many people, also police officers, here are under this 15%. That is Germany.

    another fact: in Cities like Frankfurt 70% of children have no German Background. In 30 years in some big cities there will be no German anymore. Only a minority. The problem is, that today Germans are better educated than the immigrants from foreign countries. More of them have a highschool or a higher education.

    But in Germany politicians and companies find immigration is a good thing, also from eastern Europe, because they are lying: they explain we have a lack of well-educated people, but we have a lack of good jobs! In Reality they want to push down Wages with immigration. But in Germany this is totally wrong, because the welfare system is paying the bill for this immigration policy: Tax payers get lower wages and they have to pay for the welfare system, too. But this is a bad strategy, because on the long run society have to pay for this! more illiterate people and children who are bad in school.

    This is the dead of a healthy country: low wages, growing sector of poor people and people who live from the welfare state. But in Germany they call for imigrants, because they want lower wages — but on the long run than the original population are under threaten. German have one of the lowest birthrate in the world. And the new Inhabitants are often without Highschool – or Higher Education.

    more of the new population is living from welfare benefits and more of them are unemployed. But modern industries don`t need so much workers, because of automatisation and productivity.

    in Germany the annual working hours per person in 1991 was 1500 hours per person, today only 1397 hours — nothing to do because of high productivity. What should we do with so much people who come to Germany? It is better to have a good education system, where people can change there jobs and study options very fast, to get a new qualifikation. Immigration is a bad way to react.

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