EU lawmaker to Canada asylum seeker: A Roma's long trek

Sun Jun 16, 2013 11:49am EDT
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By Mirjam Donath

TORONTO (Reuters) - Less than four years ago, Viktoria Mohácsi enjoyed the life of an international politician, eating at pricey restaurants in Brussels and winning awards as a human rights activist.

Today, the 38-year old mother of three sleeps on the floor of a one-room basement apartment in Toronto and faces deportation. As a political asylum seeker, she hopes to convince Canada that the life of a former member of the European Parliament could be in danger in a democratic country like Hungary.

She will tell her story at a hearing before the Immigration and Refugee Board of Canada starting on Tuesday. In a test case for the Canadian government's new immigration policy that considers nearly all EU countries "safe", Mohácsi, a Roma, claims she would be in danger of violence from hate groups and persecution by authorities if she went home to Hungary.

If she loses, she will be deported home. If she wins, her case could give hope to other Central and East European asylum seekers from the Roma community who at present are considered by some in Canada to be economic migrants or worse - criminals trying to abuse a generous immigration system.

Canada's Conservative government tightened its refugee law in December to crack down on what it said was a wave of fake refugee claims from EU nationals trying to take advantage of generous welfare programs. Many of those asylum seekers were Roma. Immigration Minister Jason Kenney singled out Hungary, which has been the top source of asylum seekers in Canada for the past three years, even though Hungarians as EU citizens can travel freely within the bloc.

The Canadian government says that while it wants the country to remain one of the world's top destinations for refugees, it is being swamped by people who pretend they are escaping persecution. Official figures show Canada has granted asylum to more than 300 Hungarians in the last four years, most of whom, immigration experts say, were likely Roma. The ministry does not comment on individual cases.

The government of Hungary rejected the suggestion that any of its citizens, including Mohácsi, would be in danger in Hungary. "Whilst there is work to be done in combating prejudice against minorities, the safety of a particular community in general is not in question," a government spokesman said. "If Ms. Mohácsi has evidence of criminal conspiracy by any individuals serving in Hungary's security forces to violate her constitutional rights, the Government urges her to submit it to the prosecution services," the government spokesman added.

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Viktoria Mohacsi sits at the door of the house, where she rents the basement apartment, in Toronto, May 9, 2013. REUTERS/Mirjam Donath