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Influx of Roma refugee claimants puts strain on airport staff

The Roma Community Centre on Dundas St. West in Toronto has been very busy as late as up to 50 Hungarian Roma (Gypsies) are flocking to Pearson Airport every night filing refugee claims.

Credits: Dave Thomas/Toronto Sun /QMI Agency


TORONTO -- As many as 50 Hungarian Roma a day are filing refugee claims at Pearson airport, putting a strain on airport staff and medical services, according to border services officials.

A record 110 claimants arrived at the airport one night last week, creating a challenge for immigration and security personnel working to process them, officers say.

The Hungarian Roma are a stateless ethnic group that considers the name "Gypsy" derogatory.

Entire Roma families, from babies to grandmothers, are getting off flights and claiming refugee protection at Pearson, alleging they're being persecuted by "skinheads or Neo-Nazis" in their homeland, border officers said.

Frontline officers at Pearson said extra staff had to be called in last week when the 110 claimants landed. Staff worked throughout the night to process them before they were released to shelters or the care of family members.

Officers said many of the refugee seniors and children suffer from health issues and expressed concern they're placing a burden on the health-care system.

Hungarian citizens do not require a visa to travel to Canada and Hungary has been a leading source of refugee claimants in recent years, according to the Immigration and Refugee Board (IRB).

Some 2,400 Hungarian refugee claimants were referred to the IRB for hearings in 2009. There were 2,300 in 2010 and about 2,500 from January to September of this year.

About 23% of the claimants are accepted as refugees.

Officials at the Canada Border Services Agency said Tuesday that they are looking into the issue.

Gina Csanyi-Roban, executive director of the Roma Community Centre, said Toronto shelters are full and the newcomers are being housed in other communities.

"These people are scared and running for their lives," Csanyi-Roban said on Tuesday. "Neo-Nazi groups are setting up training camps and committing violence against the Roma."

She also said many are exploited or abused by others when they arrive here.

Three families of 13 people, including two grandparents, were scammed of $270 in savings by a taxi driver who took them from the airport to an east-end shelter, she said, adding that driver then sped off.

"The Canadian government has been silent on the issue," Csanyi-Roban said.

"The problems will still be there even if a visa on Hungary is imposed."

Immigration lawyer Richard Kurland said Roma don't have to travel to Canada and can legally seek asylum in any European Union country.

"They don't have to remain in Canada," Kurland said. "They can return to any European country and legally work."

Some CBSA officers said many Roma go underground in Canada rather than be deported to Hungary. Close to 700 refugee cases have been abandoned by Roma in the last three years.

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