Roma family of 39 wins case for asylum in federal...
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Mar 08, 2015  |  Vote 0    0

Roma family of 39 wins case for asylum in federal court

Three generations of the Racz family fled an epicenter of violence against ethnic Roma, but were caught up in Ottawa’s moves to discredit Hungarian refugees

OurWindsor.Ca

A Hungarian Roma refugee family is rejoicing after a Federal Court ruling dismissed Ottawa’s bid to reverse the asylum granted to all 39 of its members.

“We are very happy and relieved that our lives are now safe and we don’t have to go back to Hungary,” Richard Racz said of the court’s recent decision to reject the federal government’s request to overturn a tribunal decision.

In 2011, three generations of the Racz family fled to Toronto from Gyongyospata, Hungary’s epicenter of ethnic violence against the Roma — where threats made against the minority group by thousands of fascists were so severe the Red Cross stepped in and evacuated the community.

Family patriarch Aladar Racz, 60, wife Aladarne, 61, and six children were active in the fight against racism in their community and featured in a number of news documentaries in England and France, among others.

Their refugee claims were divided up and heard in the course of six separate hearings in Canada. All of them were finally accepted by the Immigration and Refugee Board in 2013.

Immigration Minister Chris Alexander, however, immediately challenged the decision.

“Our family did not lie and we had nothing to hide,” said Richard Racz, 32, one of Aladar and Aladarne’s six children. “We don’t know why the government had to make it so hard for us. But it’s good that we can now move on with our life.”

Contrary to the “gypsy” stereotype about the Roma, Racz said his family had lived in Gyongyospata for almost 500 years. His parents and siblings were all musicians by profession, performing at parties and private events.

“We all worked hard. I had a nice house and two pianos, including a grand piano. We sold everything to come here,” said Racz, himself a father of three. “It was a difficult decision, but we were scared for our lives.”

In support of their claims, the Racz family brought human rights expert and former Hungarian parliamentarian Aladar Horvath to testify to the dangers they faced. Video evidence and human rights reports were also submitted.

While the government did not dispute the family’s credibility or the facts of their claims, it argued the tribunal failed to assess the Hungarian government’s ability to protect the family or analyze how the alleged discrimination they suffered amounted to persecution.

Peter Ivanyi, the family’s lawyer, said it’s hard to fathom why Ottawa was so adamant in challenging his clients’ solid case, but he believes it had to do with attempts to downplay the legitimacy of Roma refugees, amid a swirl of changes to Canada’s asylum system.

“At that point in time, the acceptance of 39 people all at once just didn’t sit well. That’s why they attacked this (tribunal) member and this decision,” said Ivanyi.

“The government wasn’t saying there was no evidence to their claims, but that the reason was not good enough . . . They attacked the case just because they disagreed with the outcome.”

In his decision, Federal Court Justice Michel Shore said the refugee board was “mindful” of the onus on the claimants to rebut the presumption that they had the state’s protection in Hungary, a democratic state and member of the European Union.

Although Hungarian officials had taken the family’s complaints, the court said there were no meaningful investigations, let alone prosecutions or convictions of those who threatened them.

“A mere willingness by a state to address the situation of the Roma minority in Hungary cannot be ‘equated to adequate state protection,’” wrote Shore. “In other words, theory does not always bridge over into practice.”

Richard Racz said the family would like to receive permanent resident status as soon as possible, so as to set down roots in Canada.

“I want to go to school to study to be a police officer,” he said. “Back home, police do not protect people. They are corrupt and have no heart. I want to be a good officer and protect others.”

The court did not certify any question from the parties, and the decision on the Racz family is final.

Almost 1,900 Hungarian refugees sought asylum in Canada in 2012, before Canada designed a so-called “safe country list” to fast-track the processing of claims from certain countries, including Hungary. In 2013, only 81 claimants came from there.

Toronto Star

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