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Refugee Law; Canada; Hungary; Roma; Administrative Decision-Making; Institutional Bias; Quality of Counsel; Empirical Legal Research


From 2008 to 2012, large numbers of Hungarian Romani refugee claimants came to Canada. Their arrival was controversial. Some political actors suggested that their claims were unfounded and amounted to abuse of Canada’s refugee processes -- abuse which could only be prevented through wide-scale reforms to the refugee determination system. Many advocates for refugees, by contrast, argued that persecution against Roma was rampant in Hungary and noted that hundreds of Hungarians had been recognized as refugees in Canada. Some went further and contended that Romani refugee claimants fled persecution in Hungary only to be confronted with similar mistreatment in Canada. Unfortunately, much of the debate about Hungarian Romani refugee claims in Canada has occurred in an evidentiary vacuum. The purpose of this article is to fill this vacuum by setting out the results of a quantitative and qualitative empirical study of Hungarian Romani refugee claims. The article begins by discussing the context of the study, offering an overview of the historic and contemporary experience of Roma in Hungary and outlining the history of Hungarian Romani migration to Canada, including two recent streams of migration by Hungarian Romani refugee claimants and Canada’s response to these claimants. The article then moves on to an empirical study about the experience of Hungarian Romani with Canada’s refugee determination system between 2008 and 2012. Finally, the article offers concluding remarks, focusing on several particularly troubling findings from the study, including the impact of anti-refugee rhetoric, concerns about institutional bias and inconsistent decision making at the Immigration and Refugee Board, and problems related to quality of counsel.