Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

Gypsies Find Canada as Hostile as Homeland Roma Getting Cool Reception after Fleeing Czech Republic

Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

Gypsies Find Canada as Hostile as Homeland Roma Getting Cool Reception after Fleeing Czech Republic

Article excerpt

Hundreds of Czech Gypsies drawn to Canada by a TV broadcast portraying it as a country of prosperity and tolerance instead have encountered the same kind of hostility they were fleeing.

Instead of the warm reception that they expected, they have faced a protest by skinheads, lengthy criminal background checks, and a cold shoulder from long-established Czech immigrants who challenge the Gypsies' claims of persecution in the Czech Republic.

Since Canada dropped visa requirements for Czechs last year, more than 1,000 Czech Gypsies - they call themselves Roma - have flown to Toronto. More than half have come since early last month when a Czech TV documentary created the impression that refugee status and welfare benefits in Canada were almost guaranteed. About half of the arriving Roma have been permitted to apply for refugee status, a process that can take months. The rest are awaiting security clearance. George Kubes, an immigration attorney handling many of the refugee claims, says many of his clients were persecuted in the Czech Republic. One young woman quit a university in Prague because of daily harassment and four severe beatings, he said. In another case, Kubes said, parents of young man, 18, who nearly died of a stabbing went to police with complaints against his skinhead attackers, but police instead sought to charge the youth with assault. He said his Roma clients would not speak to a reporter because they feared reprisals against relatives still in the Czech Republic. About 650 Czech Roma have been placed by Toronto's emergency housing service in motels set aside for use as hostels. A dozen skinheads protested outside one of the motels last month, but no attacks have been reported. Of more immediate concern to Kubes and his clients is hostility on the part of established Czechs and Slovaks in Toronto. A Difficult Relationship Two leaders of the Czech and Slovak Association of Canada wrote to federal immigration officials to praise Czech anti-discrimination efforts and question whether the Roma should be granted refugee status. "It would be unfortunate if we accept as refugees claimants coming from an environment not distinctly different from Canada's, while so many potential refugees from various parts of the world are in real danger," said the letter from Josef Cermak and Milos Suchma. …

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