What’s behind the massive increase in positive decisions for Roma refugee claimants?

Roma Refugee Claimants


According to a recent CBC investigation, refugee claims in Ontario made by people who are fleeing persecution in Europe due to their Roma ethnicity now enjoy a success rate of 70%. This is astonishing given that just a few years ago the success rate was in the 20% range.

There are a number of changes that this variation can be attributed to. But the two most significant are:

1. A change in government rhetoric? concerning Roma refugee claims, and;
2. The removal / disbarment / suspension of counsel who were incompetent or corrupt.

For many years, Canada’s previous conservative government went to great lengths to characterize Roma refugee claimants as being non genuine refugees (or economic migrants). When Canada experienced a spike in refugee claimants arriving from Hungary, then immigration Minister Jason Kenney, famously paid for billboard advertising in Hungary which was meant to discourage Roma people from coming to Canada and claiming refugee protection.

The characterization of Roma people as “queue jumpers” and the use of other derisive language contributed to an attitude that the claims made by Roma people were not well founded and they do not deserve any protection.

This changed under the new government and although the present liberal government has not been particularly positive in its discussion of Roma refugee claimants, it has remained primarily silent on the issue.

According to Shaun Rehag, a professor at Osgoode Hall Law School: “What that tells us is when you get rid of the political campaign against Roma refugees, Canada’s administrative processes find that most Roma refugees, in fact, do have a well-founded fear of persecution”

The other significant change has been the removal or suspension or disbarment of corrupt and incompetent counsel who represented a significant number of Roma refugee claimants. Over the course of the past few years, the Ontario Legal Aid Program and the Law Society of Upper Canada have taken action to remove from practice a number of individuals who had represented a significant number of Roma claimants before the Ontario offices of the Immigration and Refugee Board. In a disciplinary decisions, the Law society noted that:

Not only did these lawyers not serve the interests of the individual clients they were representing on a given day, but their incompetence had the effect of poisoning the well with respect to all Roma refugee claimants.

We find Mr. Farkas’ failure to serve in relation to the preparation of PIFs for his clients to be serious. The complainants were vulnerable persons. The information before us indicated that they were generally recent arrivals to Canada. They had limited, if any, English and had a Grade 8 education or less. They were refugee claimants seeking assistance in a complex legal process that was unfamiliar to them. They required a lawyer’s guidance and assistance in preparing their accounts of what had occurred to them in Hungary, services Mr. Farkas failed to adequately provide.

The Law Society submits that Mr. Farkas not only failed to serve his clients and supervise his staff but that he was dishonest and acted without integrity.

Law Society of Upper Canada v. Farkas, 2017 ONLSTH 75 (CanLII)

The removal of these lawyers has also likely had an impact on the overall acceptance rate. Competent advocacy will necessarily be more likely to yield a greater number of positive results than incompetent or negligent representation.

All in all, regardless of the precise impact of each of these factors on the overall trend, the shift in acceptance rate for Roma refugee claimants from 2013 to 2017 has been extraordinarily positive.

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