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editorial

Maria Gagy, a 26-year-old Roma woman, and her family stand at her apartment's balcony at the Avas apartment block in Miskolc, 180 km (112 miles) east of Budapest October 17, 2012.LASZLO BALOGH/Reuters

There is no doubt that many of the 10 million Roma who live in Europe are subject to deep-rooted discrimination, and social exclusion. But this does not make them refugees. Nor is it a problem that Canada can resolve.

Rather, the 27 members of the European Union need to work harder to fulfill their pledge to integrate Roma communities into mainstream society, and ensure they have access to education, health services, and the labour market.

Since Canada lifted the visa requirement on Hungary in 2008, Canada has seen a spike in asylum requests from that country, many of them of Roma ethnic origin. Last year, 4,442 Hungarians filed for asylum – nearly one fifth of all claimants.

The acceptance rate hovers around 20 per cent. Many abandon their claims, a sign that something is amiss. Others collect social assistance even after they have been ordered deported, according to an intelligence report from the Canada Border Services Agency.

Ottawa, which is negotiating a free trade agreement with the European Union, is rightly loath to reinstate visitor's visas for Hungary.

Yet it must take the report's findings seriously. Such behaviour represents a costly abuse of the refugee determination process. Recent changes to Canada's immigration legislation aimed at hastening the removal of failed claimants, and shortening the time frame during which claims must be filed, should add more integrity to the system.

But it is also incumbent upon EU members to fulfill their obligation to improve the circumstances of Roma, and to implement policies to counteract "Romaphobia." At least one-third live in sub-standard houses with no indoor plumbing, and as many as 40 per cent do not continue past primary school, according to a recent report on Roma communities in Spain, Czech Republic, Bulgaria, Romania and other countries.

As members of the EU, Roma are able to move anywhere in Europe, including to Germany, France and Italy; often, however, these countries do not make it easy for them to work, or to stay on a long-term basis. It is no surprise then that Canada receives such a high number of Roma claimants. The EU must do more to protect its own minorities and live up to the principles of equality, democracy and human rights embodied in its recent 2012 Nobel Peace Prize.