Amnesty International calls on Canada to drop visa requirements for Czechs

Amnesty International has criticized Canada’s decision to reintroduce visas for Czechs. On Tuesday, the Czech and Mexican branches of the organisation sent a joint letter to Canadian Immigration Minister Jason Kenney calling on Ottawa to scrap tourist visas for both countries’ citizens. In the letter, the NGO drew attention to what it called ‘serious human rights concerns’ in both the Czech Republic and Mexico. The head of the Czech branch of Amnesty International, Dáša van der Horst, says that Canada’s decision has affected the Czech Republic’s Roma community in particular. Earlier today, I asked her what exactly prompted her organisation to speak out:

Photo: archive of Radio Prague
“There are actually a couple of reasons. One of the reasons is that this is actually a political decision, which makes various states unequal within the same system. So this is one thing, the second thing which is actually even more important is that we have evidence that human rights are violated in both the Czech Republic and Mexico, and we think that people should have the right to ask for asylum.”

Making the statement that there are human rights violations in the Czech Republic – it is obviously something that you at Amnesty International look at a lot, but nonetheless, it is a strong statement. Can you give me some concrete examples of human rights violations, especially against this country’s Roma minority?

“When speaking about right-wing extremism, there was last year 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. We think that this is very important and that the Interior Ministry should take steps to prevent this from happening again.

“When we talk about state-imposed barriers, we have evidence that a lot of Roma children are more or less automatically sent to special schools. So they are outside the mainstream education system, which makes their life more difficult, because if you are not educated then you don’t get a job, if you don’t get a job then it is difficult to get housing, and so on and so on, so it is kind of a vicious circle.”

What would you say to the suggestion that everything you have just outlined makes life for the Czech Republic’s Romany minority more difficult than it would be otherwise, but that it is not for Canada to solve that problem?

“No, it is true, this is not the problem of the Canadian government, but Canada has a sort of 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. Maybe there is something wrong with the Canadian system – I don’t want to judge it, it is actually their problem. Amnesty International just states that there are human rights violations here, and that those people have the right to seek a life somewhere else.”