Visa restrictions 'unfriendly': Czech consul general

The Czech Republic will press the European Union to impose a visa restriction on all Canadians travelling to its 27 member countries, the country's consul general said Wednesday.
Czech Republic consul general Richard Krpac said the new visa restrictions prevent thousands of Czech tourists from visiting Canada. ((CBC))
The Czech Republic will press the European Union to impose a visa restriction on all Canadians travelling to its 27 member countries, the country's consul general in Toronto said Wednesday.

Richard Krpac said the move is in response to Canada's decision earlier this week to require travellers from the Czech Republic and Mexico to obtain visas.

Immigration Minister Jason Kenney said the government introduced the requirement to stem a surge in refugee claims by visitors from those countries. Kenney said "economic immigrants" are clogging up the country's immigration process for people who have genuine refugee claims.

Krpac said the Czech government does agree that some people from his country are "abusing or finding loopholes in the Canadian asylum system."

However, Krpac said the Czech Republic disagrees with how Canada has handled the situation, calling the move "unfriendly."

"You are not only preventing the asylum claims, but you are also preventing 30,000 Czech tourists coming into Canada every year," he said, adding more than 400 soldiers from the Czech Republic are fighting alongside Canadians in Afghanistan.

"Introducing [a] visa to a country such as this is — as far as the international law is concerned — unfriendly. It’s unilateral and it’s not really traditional," he said.

Krpac said Canadian diplomats travelling to the Czech Republic will need a visa and that officials from his government will ask the EU to impose similar restrictions on Canadians travelling to all EU countries.

"That has to be decided at [EU headquarters in] Brussels on behalf of all 27 countries," he said.

"We don’t want to see that, but you have to understand that the international law is sort of reciprocal kind of matter," he said.

Lift restriction, EU urges

Officials with the EU's parliament have already urged Canada to lift the restrictions on Czech travellers, saying the EU "regrets" Ottawa's move.

"I expect this measure to be temporary … in co-operation with the Czech government, we will consult the Canadian authorities in order to get more information on the reasons behind their decision and we will make all necessary efforts to restore visa-free travel," European Commission president Jose Manuel Barroso told the parliament Wednesday during a meeting in the French city of Strasbourg, the seat of the EU parliament.

The Czech government has already recalled its ambassador to Canada for consultations.

Krpac said refugees, according to international law, are fleeing countries where they have a "well-founded fear of persecution." He cited countries with authoritarian regimes such as Burma, North Korea or Cuba.

"In other words, such a person is not trying to find [an] easier life in a different country … he is running for his life."

Because the Czech Republic is a member of the European Union, its citizens can move freely within countries belonging to the 27-member organization, he said.

"If you feel that you are persecuted in the Czech Republic, you can get into your car and go tomorrow to England or Italy and settle down and live freely there," said Krpac.

Mexico provides Canada with the most refugee claimants, with the number almost tripling to more than 9,400 since 2005, said the Immigration Department. The Czech Republic ranks second with nearly 3,000 refugee claims filed since the visa requirement for visitors from that country was lifted in October 2007. That's up from fewer than five claims in 2006, said the department.

The change took effect at 12:01 a.m. ET on Tuesday. For the first 48 hours, Mexicans and Czechs have been able to apply for entry on arrival in Canada. However, after 11:59 p.m. Wednesday, all visitors from those countries must have a visa when they arrive at a point of entry.

With files from The Associated Press