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NEWS: Canada and International Roma Day, April 8

International Roma Day is April 8, 2012.

A United Nations media release states, “‘The time for action is now,’ said a group of seven United Nations human rights experts… ‘We should not accept yet another lost generation of Roma girls and boys whose only expectations are lives of poverty, discrimination and exclusion and whose futures are dictated by negative stereotypes which commonly go unchallenged.’ …In the fields of extreme poverty, adequate housing, water and sanitation, the UN Special Rapporteurs, Magdalena Sepúlveda, Raquel Rolnik, and Catarina de Albuquerque expressed their concerns that Roma frequently live in poverty in the worst housing conditions, often under permanent threat of eviction, and with no access to, or inadequate, water and sanitation — an environment that is detrimental to their health and opportunities.”

As we have previously noted in campaign blogs:
-July 2009: the Harper government imposed new visa requirements for Czech citizens entering Canada citing a spike in asylum requests attributed to Roma seeking refugee status.
-September 2010: further controversy emerged because, as reported by Postmedia News, Immigration Minister Jason Kenney agreed to attend a France-hosted meeting that was linked with, “President Nicholas Sarkozy’s controversial initiative to expel (almost 1,000) Roma migrants.”
-December 2010: the Czech Republic responded by linking the visa issue to the Canada-European Union Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement.
-January 2011: the Harper government sent a delegation to the Czech Republic to assess whether it could lift the visa restrictions without permitting a new wave of Roma refugee claimants. But by that same month the Czech parliament was blocking a Canada-EU air transportation agreement over the visa row.
-February 2011: a report by the House of Commons parliamentary committee on trade, based on a fact-finding mission to Europe several months earlier, noted they were hearing concerns being expressed by EU parliamentarians over the visa rules.
-March 2011: the European Parliament had adopted a declaration criticizing the Harper government’s visa restrictions on those from the Czech Republic entering Canada and said if the situation was not resolved soon the EU would initiate retaliatory measures.

In a December 2010 campaign blog we noted, “The Roma are an ethnic group living mostly in Europe who trace their origins to the Indian subcontinent. They are commonly discriminated against. Czechoslovakia implemented a policy of sterilization of Romani women starting in 1973. A 2005 report by the Czech government’s independent ombudsman identified dozens of cases of coercive sterilization between 1979 and 2001. Amnesty International reports anti-Roma discrimination in recent years, particularly in Bulgaria, Greece, Italy, Romania, Serbia, Slovakia, Hungary, Slovenia, and Kosovo. Amnesty International writes, “The Roma community suffers massive discrimination throughout Europe. Denied their rights to housing, employment, healthcare and education, Roma are often victims of forced evictions, racist attacks and police ill-treatment. …An estimated 300,000 Roma live in the Czech Republic, making up less than 3 per cent of the population. Unemployment particularly affects Czech Roma communities, who are estimated by some sources to make up a third of all those registered as unemployed in the Czech Republic. The Roma are also among the most vulnerable to police ill-treatment and other racially motivated violence.”

More campaign blogs on this issue – dating back to July 2009 – can be read at http://canadians.org/blog/?s=czech+%2B+visa.