If you haven’t heard of the Pusuma family before this, you should have. They’ve been taking sanctuary in a church basement in Toronto, Canada, for a year and a half, while the Harper government is scurrying around trying to deport them.
The Pusumas are from Hungary, designated by Citizenship Minister Jason Kenney as a “safe country,” meaning that refugee claims from there are not taken seriously, by government order.
Hungary may be “safe,” but not for Jews. And not for Roma.
The Pusumas are Roma, and—a second strike against them—they dared to speak out against the human rights abuses that are routine in Hungary. A violent attack on the family by neo-Nazi thugs, intended to be a warning, caused them to flee for their lives.
Under any ordinary government, their refugee status would have been assured. But the Harper government is no ordinary government, and Canada is less “ordinary” than it was a few years ago. A far-right commentator was free to lash out at “gypsies” in an 8-minute racist diatribe on national television, but the Attorney General of Ontario and his deputy unaccountably declined to permit his prosecution under our hate speech laws—to the shock of police and the Crown Attorney involved. Jason Kenney’s public contempt for Roma refugees has extended to calling their refugee claims “bogus,” and putting up billboards in Hungary telling them they aren’t welcome in Canada. (For Kenney, it appears, none is too many.) There is in fact a disturbing spread of impunity in this country for overt anti-Roma racism.
Ripped off by a shady immigration lawyer who didn’t submit the relevant evidence and didn’t even bother showing up for the hearing, the Pusumas appeared before the Immigration and Refugee Board unrepresented and were ordered deported. Despite the fact that the Law Society has since found the lawyer guilty of professional misconduct—he’s alleged to have fleeced several other refugee families as well, all since removed from Canada—the Harper government, seizing its opportunity, has been insisting on speedy deportation, to a country where, as noted, the entire family faces possible injury and even death.
A 35,000-signature petition to Chris Alexander, Minister of Immigration, asking that the family be issued a Temporary Residence Permit, has been to no avail as of this writing. (If you want to sign on, the petition may be found here.)
In the meantime, try to imagine this:
Once or twice a month, three-year-old Mate Csorba disappears from his family house on the edge of a Hungarian village. When his worried relatives find him wandering in the forest, he tells them he is searching for his father and his older brother, who are out hunting.
That is, after all, what his grandmother told him one morning a year ago, after a midnight blaze of firebombs and gunshots destroyed their house on the edge of a rural village, and black-clad gunmen chased the boy’s family through the woods and killed Mate’s father and five-year-old brother, both named Robert.
Since this heart-wrenching story appeared, support for Hungary’s anti-Semitic, Roma-hating, neo-Nazi Jobbik Party has swelled, and they now have the support of more than 20% of the Hungarian electorate. (Some of these thugs are pictured above.) The persecution of Roma in Hungary by Jobbik members and fascist paramilitaries, under the benign gaze of police and the government, is at this point well documented, and it continues without let-up.
Are we prepared to wait until Jobbik wins an election, or seizes power by other means, and proceeds to build the concentration camps they’ve promised? We’ve seen this movie before, I think. The Harper government’s not-so-silent complicity with Hungary’s state and paramilitary racism is intolerable, especially in the cold light of history. Isn’t it time that decent folks across the country stood up and let them know it?