The Conservatives have added five new countries to its arbitrary list of countries from which it doesn’t want to receive refugees—known as Designated Countries of Origin (DCOs). Now included is Romania, a nation known for its systemic discrimination of the Roma. In Canada, refugee claimants from DCOs are given less time to prepare a refugee claim and face faster deportation. They are also denied the right to an appeal and denied basic and emergency health care, available to other groups of refugees.
Former Citizen and Immigration Minister Jason Kenney introduced the DCO list in 2012, in a bill that also scrapped plans to include human rights experts in a refugee board consultation committee, opting instead for arbitrary powers for the immigration minister. The DCO list was ostensibly created to speed up the refugee claim process, which has become backlogged due to understaffing at the refugee board. A major motivation for the list was the proportionally large number of Roma refugees coming to Canada—refugees the Conservatives have consistently labelled “bogus” and accused of taking advantage of our “generous” refugee system.
The list is curious. It is supposed to include “countries that do not normally produce refugees, but do respect human rights and offer state protection,” according to Immigration Canada’s website. However, included on the list are such countries as Hungary, from which the majority of Roma claims are made, and the Czech Republic, another major source country. Both countries are well-known for their systemic discrimination of the Roma.
According to a 2012 report from Human Rights Watch: “In Hungary, Romania, Bulgaria, the Czech Republic, and Slovakia, the situation is even more alarming, with violent attacks and anti-Roma rhetoric and little progress towards ending housing and school segregation.”
Canada has slapped visas on the two other EU countries singled out in that report—Bulgaria and Romania—a measure known to efficiently and effectively deter refugees. As well, a month after Hungary was added to the DCO list, in January 2013, the Conservatives ran a publicly funded billboard campaign in the Hungarian city of Miskolc to discourage Roma from making refugee claims in Canada.
The Roma face persistent discrimination and marginalization—including physical violence and forced evictions—in the very countries we claim are free from this sort of behaviour. We are not just turning a blind eye to the widespread suffering of the Roma, we are actively participating in it, and allowing their home states to act with impunity.
Canada has made it known, yet again, that it doesn’t welcome Eastern Europe’s most vulnerable. But it’s not like we don’t want any Eastern Europeans: the same day that Romania was added to the DCO list, the Conservatives also launched a Business Express Program for Romania and Bulgaria, making “legitimate travel” quicker and easier for the more well-off. Lucky them.