July 1, 2009 / 11:47 AM / 8 years ago

Canada mulls visas as Czech asylum seekers pour in

PRAGUE (Reuters) - Canada may reinstate a visa requirement on Czech visitors after hundreds of Roma from the Czech state sought asylum there over the past few months, the Czech Foreign Ministry said Wednesday.

The Roma asylum seekers say they have been discriminated against by the majority ethnic Czech population, a view supported by human rights agencies.

Minister Jan Kohout said he had met Canadian Citizenship and Immigration Minister Jason Kenney several days ago on the issue.

"I can confirm the Canadian side informed us about measures under consideration in reaction to the growth in the number of asylum seekers, including introduction of the visa requirement," Kohout told a news conference.

The Canadian embassy in Prague did not say if the visa requirement would be reinstated.

"In general, Canada takes into account a number of factors when deciding on (re-) instating the visa requirement," an embassy spokesman said in an email.

The Czech Republic, a European Union member since 2004, has been hit by the global economic crisis, with unemployment rising and the overall output falling 3.4 percent in the first quarter.

The Roma are mostly poor and less educated than other Czechs, and have been the target of several attacks in the past months including one by a petrol bomb that injured a baby girl.

A joint statement in April from the Vienna-based European Union Agency for Fundamental Rights, the Council of Europe, and the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe said the economic downturn was fuelling anti-Roma sentiment across the continent.

Last month 100 Romanians, most of whom were of the Roma or Gypsy ethnic group, fled Northern Ireland after their community came under attack by local Irish people.

Integration of the Roma community is not high on the agenda of the main Czech political forces and far-right activists have staged demonstrations in Roma districts in the past months. Extremist parties however failed to score in elections in the past years.

The Canadian embassy said 853 Czechs applied for refugee status in Canada last year, and 84 were granted it among the 195 cases that have been closed so far.

In the first quarter of this year alone, the number of applications rose to 653 and 34 have been granted out of 87 finalised cases.

There have been previous waves of Roma immigration to Canada and in 1997 visa requirements were re-imposed for 10 years.

Reporting by Robert Mueller, writing by Jan Lopatka; Editing by Matthew Jones

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