Dominik Tomko signed along the dotted line. His flight was booked, his bags packed: He’d agreed to accept $8,000 plus plane tickets in exchange for abandoning his refugee claim, and leaving the country with his wife and two sons.
Then, 17 days before his Aug. 28 takeoff date, he changed his mind. His brother Miroslav’s claim, virtually identical to Tomko’s own, had been approved.
“I didn’t know my brother was going to be accepted. So I was already prepared to go home.”
Tomko would have been one of more than 3,600 people Canada paid to abandon their refugee claims and leave the country since July, 2012, federal statistics show.
And data Global News obtained under federal access-to-information laws indicates most of these refugee claimants are Roma. Citizens of Hungary, Croatia, the Czech Republic and Slovakia make up 61 per cent of the total of people in the program – more than 1,800 by March of this year.
Immigration and Refugee Minister Chris Alexander refused to speak with Global News for this story.
“The [Canadian Border Services Agency] will not speculate on why these are the top five countries of return,” CBSA spokesperson Line Guibert-Wolf said in an e-mail.
Under the Assisted Voluntary Return and Reintegration Program, unsuccessful refugee claimants who agree to abandon the appeal process are given airfare home, which on average costs $1,500, and “in-kind reintegration assistance” to a maximum of $2,000.
That payment “may be used to pay for services such as assistance creating a small business, obtaining education and/or job training,” CBSA spokesperson Esme Bailey wrote in an e-mail.
The payments are administered by the Geneva-based International Organization for Migration, which describes the program as “politically more palatable and less sensitive than the return of émigrés in shackles.”
Since Canada began the program in 2012, it has spent a total of $7.5 million paying would-be refugees to leave.