VIKTORIA Mohácsi has come a long way in the past four years.
From being a leading human rights activist and member of the European Parliament, she is now an asylum-seeker living in a one-room flat in Toronto, Canada.
The 38-year-old mother of three fears if she returns to her native Hungary, her life will be in danger, because she is a Roma.
She is set to tell her story to the Immigration and Refugee Board of Canada in a test case for the Canadian government’s new immigration policy that considers nearly all EU countries “safe”, Ms Mohácsi, a Roma, insists Hungary is a state in which the violent persecution of the Roma minority is widespread. If she loses, she will be deported. If she wins, her case could give hope to other east European asylum-seekers from the Roma community considered by some in Canada to be economic migrants or worse criminals trying to abuse a generous immigration system.
Canada’s Conservative government tightened its refugee law in December to crack down on what it said was a wave of fake refugee claims from European Union nationals trying to take advantage of generous welfare provisions. Many of those asylum seekers were Roma.The government of Hungary rejected the suggestion that any of its citizens, including Mohácsi, would be in danger in Hungary. “Whilst there is work to be done in combating prejudice against minorities, the safety of a particular community in general is not in question,” a government spokesman said. “If Ms Mohácsi has evidence of criminal conspiracy by any individuals serving in Hungary’s security forces to violate her constitutional rights, the government urges her to submit it to the prosecution services.”
Ms Mohácsi has long been one of the best-known Roma in Hungary. Her rise from sitting in the back of the classroom in a tiny Hungarian village alongside other Roma children to sitting in European Parliament, was rapid. At the age of 20, she became the first female Roma presenter on Hungarian mainstream television before entering politics. “I was a little sweet gipsy girl that you couldn’t help supporting,” she said in a recent interview. “I was lifted up and I succeeded, I got into public life.”
She married the director of the Roma Media Centre with strong connections to the inner circles of Hungary’s liberal party.
By the age of 29, she wasan MEP, the mother of two adopted children and the unofficial “ambassador” of the Roma.
The problems started with a series of violent attacks on the Roma across Europe in early 2008. She travelled in Hungary from one crime scene to the next, collecting information.
She visited one incident in the village of Tatarszentgyorgy, where a father and his five-year-old son were shot dead as they fled a burning house.
Police reported they had died of smoke inhalation. She reported this to the National Investigation Bureau, and two police officers involved were later disciplined.
Soon after, Ms Mohácsi says, she started receiving threatening e-mails calling her a “stinking lousy gipsy” and “dirty animal” who was “soon going to die together with the rest of your race.”
Aladar Horvath a leading Roma activist and the first Roma member of the Hungarian Parliament, visited Toronto this spring to serve as an expert witness in another asylum case.
He said a positive decision for Ms Mohácsi “would overthrow the political position that Hungary is safe.”