During the last week of November, I received a phone call asking for me to attend a meeting at the office of the Honourary Consul General of Hungary in Vancouver, Canada. Dr. Csaba Latorcai, Deputy State Secretary for Priority Affairs from the Prime Minister’s Office in Hungary, requested a sit down meeting with me to discuss Hungarian Roma in Canada. On Wednesday December 2, I met with Mr. Latorcai and Lajos Olah, the Deputy Head of Mission at the Embassy of Hungary in Ottawa.
I had what I thought was a very good meeting, but I have sadly come to learn that what I said during the meeting has been distorted and lies were reported in a Hungarian government press release describing Mr. Latorcai’s visit to Canada.
This is what was shared in MTI (the Hungarian gov’t press reIease) :
In the Western city [ie. Vancouver] [theUnder-secretary of State] met with Gina CS-R, one of the really significant leaders and advocates of the Canadian Roma community. Among other issues, he informed her about the steps taken by the Hungarian government in partnership with Roma communities to work towards the integration of Roma and also spoke about the activities of the Roma self governments. According to the Under-Secretary of State, G CS-R highlighted among other issues, that those Roma who have emigrated (sic) to Canada frequently become the victims of organized crime. [She] added that for most of these [Roma] the journey ends in disappointment and when they arrive home they are confronted by a difficult situation because of the substantial expenditures and because their children had dropped out of the Hungarian educational system.
I am absolutely appalled at this distortion and lies about what I said during my meeting with Mr. Latorcai. We spent 45 minutes together and with 30 seconds left, I answered Mr. Latorcai’s question about Hungarian Roma becoming involved in criminality in Canada. I said that Roma are vulnerable to falling prey to criminals like newcomers from any community in Canada. In fact, I emphasized that Hungarian Roma have been exploited by a few refugee lawyers who have sabotaged their refugee claims. In fact, on December 3, 2015, the Law Society of Upper Canada revoked lawyer Erzsebet Jaszi’s licence to practice law due to extreme negligence in handling Hungarian Roma refugee claims. I never once said that Roma who have migrated to Canada frequently become the victims of organized crime.
In terms of the experience of Hungarian Roma in Canada, I said that their journey often ends in disappointment because of being unfairly labelled as bogus refugees by the Canadian government at that time, and the completely inadequate legal representation that they received for their refugee claims while in Canada.
During the other 44.5 minutes of my meeting with Mr. Latorcai, our conversation was focused on a number of very important issues including Hungary’s lack of inclusion of Roma, specifically Hungarian Roma during the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA) Conferences that have taken place in Hungary this past year; what the Hungarian government is doing toward addressing exclusion and endemic discrimination endured by Hungary’s Roma; the challenges faced by children in the Hungarian education system; and the difficulties that Roma face in Canada (language and culture differences) and how much they miss Hungary, despite the hatred and violence they faced there.
I emphasized that the commonality among the 1000’s of Hungarian Roma children and youth of asylum seekers that I have worked directly with through the Toronto District School Board, is that they have all faced either physical, mental, or verbal violence in Hungarian schools. To the best of my knowledge, the majority of Hungarian Roma asylum seekers come to Canada for a safer life for their children, one that is not threatened by daily racism, hatred, and violence.
Lastly, my ending words tried to press upon Mr. Latorcai the importance of recognizing the Canadian education that the children and youth received during their years in Canada, rather than placing them back in the last grade that they had attended in Hungary which results in them often giving up on their education. The majority had done very well in highly diverse Canadian schools were they felt safe and were treated with dignity and equality. It should be noted here that in 2014, nearly 50% of all Hungarian Roma asylum claims in Canada have been successful.
I was very pleased to learn from Mr. Latorcai that the Hungarian Ministry of Education is currently working on curriculum that is more inclusive to the history and culture of the Romani students and that it will be provided in a course in the next school year. I expressed my hope that this Romani history and cultural course be provided as curriculum for all Hungarian students to learn and that strict anti-racism policies need to be created in Hungarian schools. Mr Latorcai agreed that combating racism as early as possible in school was critical and that the young Hungarians, Roma and non-Roma, need to build better understanding and relationships with each other.
I viewed this meeting with Mr. Latorcai as a success, and better than any previous meeting that I have had with any Hungarian government representative, since 2011. This was consolidated by the invitation extended to me at the end of our meeting to come to the Hungarian Consulate in Ottawa this coming February for a discussion with the Hungarian Minister for Social Inclusion. However, at this point, I am deeply saddened by what appears to have been a futile meeting that has been manipulated and exploited to reinforce negative stereotyping about Hungarian Roma refugee claimants.
One thing that is making me feel slightly better about the untrue and distorted comments I supposedly made during the Latorcai meeting is Chris Adam’s article in The Hungarian Freedom Press. His suspicions that he raised about my comments during the Latorcai meeting made me feel slightly vindicated.
In conclusion, it is now easy to see why there is very little progress in Hungary between Romani leaders and the government in terms of trust, reconciliation, and meaningfully addressing the problem of endemic racism and oppression that continues to be diffused from the top echelons of institutions and from the the average everyday, non-Roma citizen.
In a recent high level meeting with Hungarian Ambassadors and diplomats from Hungary, Prime Minister Viktor Orban said that he did no view Roma as Hungarians and compared Syrian migrants to the Romani minority in Hungary. The PM was quoted as saying, “It is an historical given of Hungary that, irrespective of what one might think about it, the country does live together with several hundred thousand Roma…Someone made this decision at some point and we have inherited it. That’s our situation, against which it is not even possible to express any reservations. We, of course, never present anyone, and certainly not Western countries, with the demand that they too live together with a large Romani minority.”
Thankfully, Canada is becoming a place that is more accepting of both Roma and Syrian refugees.