Like hundreds of other Hungarian Roma, Jozsef Pusuma and Timea Daroczi came to Toronto seeking asylum. The refugee board believes they’re bilking the system. The Pusumas say they’re avoiding certain death
For the last three years, the Pusumas—Jozsef, Timea and their daughter,
Lulu—have evaded deportation by taking sanctuary in this church
Every refugee story is different, but they all have a shared feature: the decisive moment a person realizes he or she can no longer stay at home. It can come after a slow build-up or as the result of a single cataclysmic event, but at some point there is an irrevocable break.
Until 2008, Jozsef Pusuma and his wife, Timea Daroczi, had a relatively peaceful life in Budapest. The Pusumas are Roma, the ethnic minority sometimes known as gypsies. They lived with their toddler, Lulu, in a small house on Jozsef’s grandmother’s property, a nice place with a few chickens in the yard. Jozsef worked as truck driver, Timea as an office administrator at the Ministry of Education. On weekends, friends and family would come over to barbecue and drink beer, turning a Saturday night into a small party.
Every once in a while, Jozsef would get a call from the office of Viktória Mohácsi, Timea’s sister-in-law and a former member of the European Union parliament. For years, Mohácsi had been documenting the surge of anti-Roma violence that was spreading across Hungary. When Mohácsi needed help, she often asked Jozsef. He would take addresses from her and drive into the country to visit Roma families who had reported attacks. He would listen to their stories of violence and take notes while they told him, a fellow Roma, things they would never tell the authorities.
In the late 2000s, with Hungary deep in recession, parties on the far right made the Roma a convenient scapegoat, spouting virulent anti-gypsy propaganda that helped them gain popularity. In 2010, the Jobbik party—a far-right group with anti-Semitic and anti-Roma views—won 12 per cent of the vote. In 2013, Zsolt Bayer, one of the founders of the ruling party, Fidesz, wrote in a newspaper column that “a significant part of the Roma are unfit for coexistence. They are not fit to live among people…. These animals shouldn’t be allowed to exist. In no way. That needs to be solved—immediately and regardless of the method.” The rise of racist politics only legitimized the growing tensions between Hungarians and the Roma. In 2008 and 2009, at least six Roma Hungarians were killed and 50 injured in a series of attacks across the countryside. Militias marched through Roma communities with flaming whips and torches. According to a 2012 survey, 60 per cent of polled Hungarians believed that criminality is in Roma blood.
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