Thursday 7 May 2009

Canada-Czech disputes: Throw Eric from the train edition

Canada and the Czech Republic are again ramping up disputes about the number of Roma fleeing the Czech Republic and claiming refugee status in Canada.

The last time this happened was about 10 years ago. Canada and the Czech Republic had a visa waiver agreement. So, all the tour guide books said that Canadians didn't need visas to visit. In the late 1990s, a documentary aired in the Czech Republic encouraging Roma to become refugees in Canada.
A 15-minute television report spurred the exodus of Czech Roma to Canada in 1996, according a report from Radio Prague in 1997. On Aug. 5, 1996, a documentary entitled “Na vlastní oči” (With Your Own Eyes) aired on Czech commercial broadcaster TV Nova that depicted a Czech Romany who had immigrated to Canada and was living a very comfortable life. It portrayed Roma families living well with state support while they waited to be granted asylum.

The days following the broadcast were full of reports from local officials of Roma selling their possessions and property in preparation to leave. One week later, the Canadian Embassy in Prague was receiving hundreds of calls a day—reportedly 90 percent were from Roma. Various reports and experts, including the report from Radio Prague, stated that mayors in some localities were exacerbating the situation by offering to provide funding for Roma who were seeking airline tickets to leave.
Canada then started demanding visas for Czech citizens visiting Canada. The Czech Republic later retaliated by demanding Canadians also get visas to visit there.

The new visa requirements came in after the publication of the guide book on which Sue was relying when she made our travel plans while I was on a post-doc at ZEI in Bonn in the fall of 2003. And so, a bit after 3 in the morning we were woken in our sleeper car on the train heading to Prague. Sue, an American, had no trouble: the visa waiver still applied. But not so much for me. And so I was thrown off the train at 4 in the morning at an empty and closed train station near the Czech Border: Marktredwitz. Sue decided to stick with me rather than continuing on to Prague. And so our planned tour of Prague became a tour of Bavaria once the train station opened two hours later.

My Czech colleague Andrea Menclova had a similar experience in traveling to Canada while in grad school at New Hampshire.

In Canadian-Czech disputes over Roma, it's always the innocent academics who get hurt.

1 comment:

  1. There are many adjectives I would use about you Eric, but somehow "innocent" never really entered the list...