The 'bogus' refugee: Roma asylum claimants and discourses of fraud in Canada's Bill C-31.

Author:Diop, Petra Molnar


The passage of Bill C-31 into Canadian law in June 2012 is part of a discourse created around refugees by the current Government of Canada. Refugees are di=vided into "good and proper" refugees who live in camps abroad, and the "fraudulent and bogus" refugees who claim asylum at the Canadian border. The new act, Bill C-31 or Protecting Canada's Immigration System Act, is analyzed with respect to changes that will result in the systematic exclusion of certain groups of asylum seekers from Canada, based on these discourses of "bogus" and "fraud," even though these groups may include genuine refugees. Drawing on the case of Czech Roma refugee claimants who come to Canada from Europe, this article shows how the Roma come to stand for the perfect "bogus" refugee--a person who wants to cheat the benevolent Canadian system without having grounds for a successful refugee status application. A critical look at the legislation provides new insights into the relations between governmentality and the regimes of citizenship, with the state performing its power in increasingly spectacular ways. Refugees act as the abject Other that legitimizes, legalizes, and reaffirms such state interventions.


L'adoption du projet de loi C-31 en juin 2012 fait partie dun discours creepar legouvernement actuel du Canada autour des refugies. Ceux-ci sont divises en > refugies qui vivent dans des camps a Tetranger et refugies > qui demandent l'asile a lafrontiere canadienne. La nouvelle loi, le projet de loi C-31 ou Loi visant aproteger le systeme d'immigration du Canada, est analysee enfonction de changements qui se traduiront par Vexclusion systematique du Canada de certainsgroupes de demandeurs d'asile, sur la base de ces notions de > et >, meme si ces groupes peuvent comprendre de veritables refugies. S'appuyant sur le cas de demandeurs d'asile roms tcheques venus d'Europe au Canada, cet article montre comment les Roms en viennent a incarner le refugie > ideal--quelqu'un qui veut abuser de la bienveillance du systeme canadien en deposant une demande de statut de refugie sans fondement. Un regard critique sur le projet de loi apporte un nouvel eclairage sur les relations entre la gouvernementalite et les regimes de citoyennete, ou 1'etat exerce son pouvoir de facon de plus en plus spectaculaire. Le refugie tient lieu d'Autre abject qui legitime, legalise, et reaffrme les interventions de VEtat.


The recent changes made to Canada's refugee determination system and the hardening of attitudes toward refugees has placed certain asylum seekers squarely at the forefront of nation-building projects. By equating refugees with "the Other," the figure of the asylum seeker becomes the vehicle through which the performance of sovereignty can be enacted, as the state promulgates a particular discourse about those who appear to be threatening state borders. This article examines the discourses that have been circulated about refugee claimants by the current Conservative Government of Canada and how such discourses create a binary between the "good" refugees who remain in refugee camps until they are brought to Canada as government-assisted refugees (GARs), and the bad or "bogus" refugees who autonomously arrive at Canada's shores, seeking asylum of their own volition. (1) This dichotomy is used to bolster the rhetoric of the benevolent and welcoming Canadian refugee system trying to cope with "fraudulent" asylum claimants clogging the process. The February 2012 introduction and December 2012 implementation of Bill C-31, fully named The Act to Amend the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act, the Balanced Refugee Reform Act, the Marine Transportation Security Act and the Department of Citizenship and Immigration, is in line with the worldwide trend toward the securitization of asylum and the enhanced policing of borders. In order to illustrate these discourses and their impact on a particular group of asylum seekers, it is useful to consider how Roma refugee claimants have been systematically presented as the embodiment of bogus refugees and denied refugee status.

For the purposes of this article, the designations Roma and Romani will be used, as they are generally seen as a self-appointed term by the Roma community in Canada. The term refugee must also be used critically. I examine the treatment of those who have self-identified as refugees in order to qualify for the Canadian refugee assessment process and have thus been designated as an entity that is treated in particular ways in Canadian immigration policy. Thus, I will be looking at Roma refugee claimants, not Roma refugees, in order avoid making judgments about whether or not they are bona fide refugees. The Roma are not geographically bounded, and in this article they are defined as a "group" based on their grounds for applying for refugee status in Canada as Czech nationals. I chose to focus on the Czech Roma in particular because their migration to Canada has been historically complicated by visa impositions. While their numbers are less than other groups of Roma who come to Canada seeking refugee status, the Czech Roma provide a representative subset of the population that has been seized on by the government and equated with being "bogus" and "fraudulent" refugees. While all Roma refugee claimants have been experiencing difficulties with the refugee determination system, the Czech Roma provide an interesting example of how government action against a particular group can crystallize in specific state mechanisms, such as visa imposition and safe-country lists. Czech Roma claimants come from a country deemed democratic and safe, a country seen as not "typically" producing refugees. They often abandon their refugee claim and either return to the Czech Republic or else enter another country in the European Union. Canada has also imposed numerous travel visas on the Czech Republic since the 1990s, in order to stem undesirable migration into Canada. (2) Thus they are construed as the perfect "bogus" refugees--persons who want to cheat the benevolent Canadian system without having grounds for a successful refugee status application.

This article provides a brief history of the Roma in Europe, followed by a short analysis of the Canadian immigration and refugee regime. I then examine the recent changes made to Canadian legislation and statements by the government concerning the Roma that have been made to bolster these changes. This article argues that the utilization of such loaded terms as bogus and fraud is done deliberately to bolster state sovereignty as the refugee regime increasingly moves toward a "guilty until proven innocent" model, with any semblance of a fair refugee determination process transformed into an uncovering of those claimants who are "bogus" and out to cheat the benevolent Canadian system.

Literature Review

While there are studies on Roma migration in the European Union, such as in the United Kingdom, (3) there are significant gaps in anthropological literature examining Roma populations in Canada. Broader literature concerning migration, in particular by Malkki, (4) Clark-Kazak, (5) Giles, (6) Hyndman, (7) and Winland (8) orients our understanding of refugee issues, state sovereignty, and regimes of control. Further work has been done on state-sovereignty and discourse formation and the impacts of the practices of the sovereign nation on migrants and refugees. Billig (9) examines the recurrent practices, banal routines, experiences, and discourses of the nation, and Gullestad (10) analyzes how social imaginaries affect how the public thinks about collective societies and social values. Vertovec (11) explores how identity is inherently tied to borders and their control. (12) The particular regimes that have been employed to regulate migration have also been extensively explored, (13) and while these particular mechanisms are beyond the scope of this article, it is important to note that border surveillance is inherently tied to projects of sovereignty. In Bill C-31, the ramped up surveillance and policing of borders is evident in the creation of the "irregular arrivals" category and the subsequent mandatory detentions for these claimants. (14) The assemblages of knowledge that frame government interventions surrounding immigrants have also been explored by Blommaert. (15) There are clear political reactions to the influx of migrants, and ideas of ethnicity and racialization impinge on the bodies of refugees and asylum seekers. (16) Migrant identities and the relationships between migration, citizenship, and the state have been widely studied, (17) and theorists such as Ahmed, Morris, Buck-Morss, Balibar, and Stewart and Harding (18) explore the state responses to the affective impact of the refugee and alien figure. In this environment, certain language and symbols come to be used to mobilize concerns about foreigners, such as the formulation of the "bogus" or "fraudulent" refugee, which can be seen in the rhetoric surrounding Roma refugee claimants and Bill C-31. (19)

When examining the discourses around Roma migrants in particular, the works of linguist and Roma scholar Ian Hancock (20) and Ronald Lee (21) have been particularly helpful, as discourses surrounding the Roma population are historical. This particular population has been scape-goated and used in nation-making projects in Europe for centuries. In literature that concerns the Roma in Canada specifically from a social work perspective, Walsh and Krieg examine how Roma families are disadvantaged in numerous systems of governance, such as in social support. (22) I show this to also hold true for systems of refugee determination systems. Butler's 2009 work foreshadowed the binary conceptualization for legitimate/illegitimate refugees in Canada and discussed the possible consequences of imposing "safe" country lists on Roma claimants, thus intensifying the notion that Roma...

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