new immigrants to Canada denied refugee status
The path of an immigrant is not an easy one: new language, new ways, strangers in the new country – but at least they have hope for a new life.
Tamas Majsa and Nikoletta Balogh once had that hope. Now, however, they face deportation – back to poverty, persecution, and pain, and all because their ethnic status in their country is not deemed by the Canadian government to face severe enough discrimination.
Disappointed, Tamas said, “We trusted the Canadian government 100 per cent with our application to recognize our situation because it is Canada, not Hungary.”
Tamas and Nikki, from Szombathely in Hungary, are each half Romany, or Gypsy, the largest minority in Hungary. The Romany was a nomadic people hailing originally from India in the 14thand 15thcenturies as they fled from the Turks into western European countries. From there, due in large part to their differences in appearance (darker skin) and lack of knowledge in agriculture, they were driven into Eastern Europe, often brutally.
The Hungarian government at the time then attempted a forced assimilation, banning the language and practice of their culture, and a vast number complied, because to be overtly Roma was to invite mental anguish and physical attacks, even on children.
Today, the Romany are typically poor and many are unemployed, resorting to criminal activities which further amplifies their bad reputations. Lack of education is blamed. Roma children are often segregated in schools, placed in classrooms with special needs children, or in inferior settings with antiquated tools to learn, while non-Roma children have computers and all the modern conveniences. Only 13% of all Roma have completed secondary education so the cycle of poverty continues, keeping them from social mobility.
Tamas quit school early to escape the taunts by other children about his ethnicity. He said after years of trying to fit in, he gave up and decided to leave and get a job instead. He thought maybe he’d be more comfortable in mainstream society as a productive working adult. He worked at any job he could find, eventually specializing in painting. He was able to leave his mother’s small 450 square foot apartment which she shared with three others and get his own place. However, the city of 90,000 people was small enough for non-Roma residents to identify his Roma heritage and harass him, to the point of violence.
In 2001, on their way back home from a concert, Tamas and Nikki were attacked by a group of five skinheads. The men attempted to sexually assault both of them, and in the fray, Tamas was stabbed in the leg. On numerous other occasions, they were approached in public areas and told to leave Hungary.
In 2010, his and Nikki’s apartment was broken into by “skinheads wearing masks” who told him “his kind should go back to where they came from” and “Roma need to get out.” They were attacked with knives and in attempting to defend himself and Nikki, Tamas was injured in the shoulder. Neighbours, alerted to the commotion, caused the attackers to flee.
That is when Tamas said, “I had enough. I moved with Nikki to her parents, and eventually left for Canada. I could not stay and put her parents or her in danger, as the attacks seemed to be escalating. They were always looking for me.”
In November of 2010, Tamas arrived in Canada and applied for refugee protection. Nikki followed in February of 2011.
“We had some family here we could stay with at the beginning,” Tamas said. His sister has been here since 2001. But it did not take them long to find their own apartment and find gainful employment, and soon they truly felt they were making headway with their lives in peace and learning to be the best Canadians they could.
No longer were they threatened due to their ethnicity; no longer did they feel their lives would be nothing but 450 sq. ft. of squalor; no longer did they feel less than a productive member of society. Canada was a dream come true. Here was freedom! They threw themselves into their new lives with enthusiasm: making friends, holding jobs, paying their bills, helping out with charitable organizations such as the Niagara Multi-Culture Centre.
It was important to them to be good Canadians, Tamas said.
However, their hearing did not bring them the good news they’d hoped for. They were rejected as Convention refugees in need of protection by immigration authorities on the basis of lack of credibility and insufficient evidence “surrounding any harm or treatment tantamount to persecution.”
Flummoxed, Tamas and Nikki did not understand how that could be when they clearly faced physical violence multiple times in Hungary, and explained as much to authorities in their PIFs (Personal Information Form) and at the hearing.
The initial judgment which denied them protection stated they “lacked credibility” and the official also stated “I also do not believe that the 2001 and 2010 incidents were instigated by racists” despite Tamas and Nikki’s testimony that the skinheads said they should go back where they came from. The author of the judgment also indicates there were some inconsistencies in the written PIFs and the verbal testimonies given which also caused Tamas and Nikki to lose credibility in his opinion. However, the author himself made errors in the facts when he wrote the report, causing Tamas to wonder how indepth the official went into his case.
In addition, the two did not report any of these incidents to the police, the report stated, and the author believed had they done so, they would have been protected by the state adequately.
“We never report to the police,” Tamas said. “They do not come when they hear these things because they do not care about Roma either.”
He said many of these hate crimes are never brought to the authorities’ attention because nothing is ever done to resolve things. Those who are victimized have learned to deal with it privately.
During the hearing, they were provided a Hungarian translator and they were not allowed to speak any English at all. However, there were times when Tamas felt the answers to questions needed further explanation and a few times he tried to interject to clarify a point and was told by the judge he was not allowed to correct the translator.
After the initial judgment came down, Tamas and Nikki were then allowed to rebut with news articles reflecting recent violence against Roma in Hungary and testimony vouching for their responsibility by friends, co-workers, and others.
They hired a local lawyer, from Thorold, who specialized in immigration issues, and he collected the articles and documents which were then forwarded to the officials reviewing the rebuttal. Tamas and Nikki essentially waited while their fate lay in someone else’s hands – but there was some comfort for them that it was in the hands of a professional.
However, the second judgment also denied them protection, and stated the submitted documents also lacked credibility due to the age of the incidents in question. According to the judgment, the officials were looking for very recent incidents dated after the first judgment, and the articles the lawyer collected and sent in were from 2 or 3 years earlier. Once again, the very system they trusted had let them down.
After receiving their second and final judgment, and realizing the articles sent were not appropriate, Tamas checked the internet, and found articles relating to a very well-known Romany activist, Natasha Varadi, who had fled Hungary to Canada in January of 2012, just months after her husband, because the situation against the Roma in her town had escalated to Nazified levels. In her town of Gyongyospata, near Budapest, militia regularly marched through town spewing hate epithets at the Roma, carrying whips, axes and armed with dogs. Under the guise of a neighbourhood watch patrol, militia members fueled by alcohol were recorded by CCTV cameras boasting they had painted a swastika in the dirt with their urine. Varadi and her husband have since claimed refugee status in Canada.
“If a strong activist cannot stand it there, how can a regular person,” Tamas said. Hungary was Canada’s top claimant source in 2010, with almost 3,000 applying as refugees in a six month period.
“We can’t all be wrong,” he said.
Meanwhile, Tamas and Nikki face an unsure future. With no money, no possessions, and no place to go, they fear they will be on the street, and once again be an abused second-class citizen.
“One of my friends has told me the situation is the same and we will face the same attacks if we go back. They are looking for me. And we have to go back to the same city where they live,” Tamas said. “The situation with discrimination is the same. It was and it will always be.”