Family fights to stay in Canada

Immigration officials are deporting a local family despite claims they face persecution and discrimination in their home country.

The five family members are Roma, also known as Gypsies, and they are from the Czech Republic.

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Jan Pohlodko and his wife Eva Tulejova have three children and have been in Canada since June 2, 2009. They applied for refugee status, citing persecution in the Czech Republic and pointed to cases of racist skinheads attacks on Roma as reason to let the family stay. Their application was denied on Dec. 21, 2010.

Their eight-year-old daughter goes to Stride Avenue Community School, and their fiveyear-old boy just started kindergarten. To make matters more complicated, their fivemonth-old baby is a Canadian citizen, as she was born here.

The family lives in a housing complex in South Burnaby. Pohlodko is illiterate but found work in painting and construction.

Speaking through a translator, Pohlodko and Tulejova described an incident where skinheads allegedly broke into their home five years ago and attacked the two. They said they went to police for help but nothing came of the case.

"It's like Czech people don't like you," said Ruzena Miskovicova, a relative who translated for the two. "Czech people don't like Gypsies."

Speaking through Miskovicova, the husband and wife said they came to Canada because discrimination against Roma is widespread in Europe, and they want a good life and education for their children.

Sabina, the eight-year-old daughter, said she remembers the Czech Republic and that "it was not good."

"I didn't have any friends," she said in broken English. "Nobody played with me because I'm (Roma)."

The family also underwent a pre-removal risk assessment, but that was rejected on Sept. 1. The assessment is to make sure that Canada

is not deporting people to countries where their lives are at risk or they face the risk of persecution, torture or cruel and unusual treatment.

The senior immigration officer who reviewed the family's case cited credibility concerns in the assessment results.

"The applicants made a refugee claim based on their ethnicity, namely Roma. The claim before the board indicates that the principal applicant was assaulted by skinheads, and that he was denied unemployment and education by the government. The claimants also indicated to the board that the daughter had been assaulted by racist classmates. They fear they will suffer harassment from the general population and violence from skinheads," the documents state. "In their decision, the Refugee Protection Division noted discrepancies in accounts from the claimants regarding assaults they had suffered as a result of being Roma. They did not find the explanation of the discrepancies to be credible."

The immigration officer went on to cite a U.S. Department of State report that noted there is widespread discrimination against Roma in the Czech Republic.

The documents listed numerous examples, including Molotov cocktail attacks against Roma homes, one of which left a two-yearold girl with second-and third-degree burns over 80 per cent of her body.

"When taken in its totality, the objective documentary evidence indicates that there is societal discrimination against Roma in Czech Republic, however it also indicates that adequate state protection exists. The evidence does not support that the discrimination is systemic and government sponsored or that it rises to the level of persecution," the officer wrote.

"While incidents of violence continue to occur, the government has initiated a number of programs and efforts to address the situation for Roma and other ethnic minorities."

Pohlodko wants Burnaby residents to hear his family's plight.

"We need help (and) lots of people to understand what happened," he said. "Canada gave me a chance to live here for three years and then (is sending) me back. Why?"

The family does not have a deportation date yet. Pohlodko has extended family who may face a similar fate as their immigration cases move forward.

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