Magazine article Washington Report on Middle East Affairs

Canada Calling: Russian Jews Look to Canada for Asylum

Magazine article Washington Report on Middle East Affairs

Canada Calling: Russian Jews Look to Canada for Asylum

Article excerpt

Canada Calling: Russian Jews Look to Canada for Asylum

Hundreds of Israeli citizens of Russian origin have successfully claimed refugee status in Canada over the past five years. According to a recent report in the Canadian newsmagazine Maclean's, the Federal Immigration and Refugee Board has heard a total of 1,655 claims from Israeli citizens between 1992 and 1995. During this period independent federal tribunals granted refugee status to 726 of these claimants.

The report suggested, however, that pressure from Canadian Jews has put a damper recently on the rate of acceptance. Successful applicants have to convince an independent tribunal that they fit the Geneva Convention definition of a refugee -- the person must have a "well-founded fear of persecution" in the country from which he or she is claiming asylum.

Over the past seven years more than 500,000 Russian Jews have gone from the former Soviet Union to Israel. The social tensions resulting from the influx reportedly have created a hostile environment for Russian Jews in Israel. The plight of Russian Jews first was highlighted at the official government level in Canada by a study entitled Israel: Jews from the Former Soviet Union, prepared by the Refugee Board's research directorate.

The report, made public in February 1993. claimed that the unemployment rate within this group was between 30 and 40 percent and that Russian children reported verbal and even physical abuse from their classmates in Israel. The paper also concluded that certain preferential treatment accorded to Russian Jews -- tax exemptions, better mortgage conditions, etc. -- had created resentment among Jew's from North Africa, the Middle East and other groups who make up the lower strata of Israeli society.

Supporters of Israel have been upset over the perceived liberal approach of the Canadian tribunals. Adam Szweras, media relations office for the Israeli consulate in Toronto. told the Washington Report that "Israel is not a refugee-producing country." He added that there are "no valid refugee claims from Israelis."

Paul Hardy, regional public affairs officer for Canada's Immigration and Refugee Board, disagrees with Szweras. "I don't know what a refugee-producing country is," said the Board spokesperson. "Every case is heard on its own merits using criteria set out in the United Nations Convention."

The feelings expressed by the Israeli consulate are shared by many members of the Canadian Jewish community, presently estimated to be more than 400,000. …

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