Ottawa considers visas for Hungarian visitors: report

Ottawa considers visas for Hungarian visitors: report
Last Updated: Friday, January 8, 2010 | 8:55 PM ET Comments133Recommend52

The Canadian Press

Ottawa is seriously considering imposing visa requirements on visitors from Hungary to cut off a growing flood of refugee applicants, mainly from the Roma community, The Canadian Press has learned.

It would be the third such move in less than a year, after Canada imposed visas on visitors from Mexico and the Czech Republic last summer.

And it would risk provoking retaliation not just from Hungary but also from the much larger and more powerful European Union, which has already protested against the clampdown on Czech travellers.

The number of refugee claims from Hungary has soared since last spring, according to data collected by the Immigration and Refugee Board. That’s despite months of attempts by Hungarian and Canadian officials to find other ways to better manage the influx.

Numbers began to rise after Canada lifted visa requirements in the spring of 2008, four years after Hungary joined the EU. Since the spring of 2009, however, the steady increase turned into a flood.

Immigration Minister Jason Kenney visited Budapest last June and urged his Hungarian counterparts to take steps.

“He raised Canada’s concerns about the growing number of asylum seekers going to Canada,” said Alykhan Velshi, Kenney’s spokesman.

Velshi said Ottawa has no plans to impose visas right now.

But he added that efforts to collaborate had not produced concrete results. “Thus far, unfortunately, the number has gone up.”

Now, the Eastern European country is among the top three sources of refugee claimants. The number of claims made every month was usually between 20 and 40 immediately after the visa requirement was lifted in the spring of 2008. By the fall of 2009, the monthly total was about 200.

While numbers for the last three months of the year have not yet been made public, they are expected to show another sharp increase.

At the same time, the refugee board’s approvals of the claims have plunged to zero, with many of the claimants withdrawing or abandoning their applications as they come up for processing.

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