Gypsies sell up for the good life

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The Independent Online
Prague (Reuters) - Czech gypsies have flocked to Canadian embassies in Prague and Vienna, hoping to win asylum after a local television report showed a gypsy family living comfortably in Canada while its case for asylum is considered.

Canada's Prague embassy said it had received several hundred calls since the report, mostly from Czech gypsies in the eastern city of Ostrava who mistakenly thought that Canada has a special asylum programme for them.

The Czech news agency CTK said up to 5,000 gypsies had begun selling their possessions in Ostrava and withdrawing money after the report to buy air tickets to Canada.

"The television [TV Nova] basically showed that if you arrive in Canada, from that moment, you get money from the government," Canada's Prague embassy spokewoman Lucie Cermakova said. "But in fact it's a very complicated administrative process and you have to fulfil a lot of requirements."

Czech citizens are not required to have a visa to visit Canada though they must show a return ticket when entering and prove they have the means to finance their stay.

Jacques Beaulne, of Canada's Vienna embassy, stressed that there was no special programme for Czech gypsies.

"Canada is not paradise... We are not going to let people starve, but people are not going to be able to benefit financially from such a situation," Mr Beaulne said.

Human rights campaigners say the Czech Republic unfairly treats its relatively poor gypsies, who are estimated to total hundreds of thousands.