23rd Feb 2019

EU threatens Canada with visa war

  • EU justice affairs commissioner Jacques Barrot took a hard line on Canada (Photo: Council of European Union)

The EU commissioner for justice and home affairs, Jacques Barrot, has warned Canada it could face "retaliatory measures" if it does not scrap the visa obligation imposed on Czech citizens by the end of the year.

Ottawa abolished visas for Czechs in 2007, but re-introduced them in July after hundreds of Roma from the central-European country applied for asylum in Canada, citing discrimination in their home country.

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The measure was "unacceptable, not just for the Czech Republic but for the European Union as a whole," Mr Barrot said at a press conference on Monday (21 September) after a meeting of EU justice and home affairs ministers.

He suggested that the EU may impose a visa obligation for Canadian diplomats as a first tit-for-tat measure.

An initial sign of good will would be for Canada to open a consulate in Prague, enabling Czech citizens to apply for a visa in their own country, instead of having to travel to Vienna as they do now, he said.

"If the Canadians don't do anything by the end of the year, then we will be required to ask member states whether it will be agreeable to have some form of retaliatory measure," Mr Barrot warned.

Initial discussions on this matter received "broad support" among member states, as a sign of solidarity with the Czech Republic, the Swedish EU presidency said.

Sweden wants to avoid a "visa war" with Ottawa, the Swedish minister for immigration, Tobias Billstrom, said at the press briefing. "That would be very unfortunate for all stakeholders."

But there are no signs from Canada that the policy may be reversed. A spokesman for the Ministry of Immigration on Monday defended the policy as a great succes.

"[The policy] is stopping bogus asylum claims, saving taxpayers money, and allowing us to redirect our resources to focus on genuine refugees," Alykhan Velshi, director of communications with the responsible ministry, told the Canwest News Service.

According to Canadian statistics, 3,000 Czech nationals made refugee claims since visas were lifted in October 2007. Fewer than five refugee claims were filed in 2006.

Human rights watchdog Amnesty International has criticised Canada over the move, drawing attention to attacks and discrimination against Roma people in the Czech Republic and stressing their right to claim asylum.

"Last year there was a big pogrom against Roma in the north of the Czech Republic in Janov. And the whole incident has still not completely been resolved and there are no conclusions yet," Dasa van der Horst, the head of the Amnesty International branch in Prague, told Czech Radio.

She spoke about "state-imposed barriers" and evidence that Roma children are automatically sent to special schools, which only re-inforces the discrimination circle.

"This is not the problem of the Canadian government, but Canada has a system which works for all countries. And it is very strange to put repressive and actually preventative methods in place and not allow our citizens in but allow other countries citizens in," Ms van der Horst said.

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