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More ships with SL Tamils heading to Canada?

By Ajit Jain
August 25, 2010 03:20 IST
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In the wake of the arrival of MV Sun Sea in Canada on August 12 with 492 Sri Lankan Tamils -- including 63 women, and 49 children, about half-a-dozen of them unaccompanied -- there are reports that two more ships are heading towards Canada.

This has heightened concerns about the reality of Lankan refuge seekers.

Canadian Public Safety Minister Vic Toews has repeatedly expressed fears that these migrants might include former operatives of the banned Liberation Tigers of Tamil Elam and their leaders could be behind organising this trip.

Prime Minister Stephen Harper echoed the concerns. "Canada is a nation of refuge and has been for many people," he told the media. "But… Canadians get concerned when hundreds of people start arriving by boat without any attempt to go through an application process, any attempt to pursue normal travel channels."

He added that they had evidence that the arrival of this boat was 'an illegal operation'.

Calling human smuggling a 'growing phenomenon,' he said, "It's something we are very concerned about … and if we have to strengthen laws to give ourselves more tools to deal with it, we will."

"Some (of the Sri Lankans) may be seeking legitimate refuge," he added. "But the way this has been done and the way some of these shipments are coming over raises very serious concerns about who's behind it, what the agenda is, who these people are, and why there is no effort to work through any legal or accepted channels, and so it is something we take very seriously… Ultimately as a government we're responsible… for the security of our borders and the ability to welcome people or not welcome people when they come," he said.

He added that his government would be working 'with allies like Australia' to discourage ships heading towards the Canadian waters in the future.

"Why all this fuss over the arrival of 492 Tamil civilians from Sri Lanka?" Olivia Chow, a National Democratic Party's citizenship and immigration critic in the House of Commons, asked India Abroad.

"Refugees have come to Canada by planes, cars and boats for years; it has always been the history of Canada," she noted.

On an average 9,000 to 12,000 refugees were admitted in the country annually during the last 10 to 15 years.

When asked if Canada should intercept such ships in international waters and turn them back, Chow recalled what happened to the Komagata Maru when it was forced to turn back in 1914.

Around 30 of its passengers were killed by the British Imperial Forces when the ship returned to India.

She said the Sri Lankan Tamils were fleeing persecution. "The civil war, that ended May last year, was extremely bloody," she added. "There were hundreds of displaced people who were in the camps with no access to health care. The Sri Lankan authorities violated their basic rights. No wonder those people would risk anything to leave the country," she said.

Chow suggested that the claims of each of the 492 people be examined individually and expeditiously by experts and those who are deemed genuine refugees be allowed to stay.

Chitranganee Wagiswara, the Sri Lankan high commissioner in Ottawa, told the Globe and Mail that her country was urging Canada to share intelligence if it was serious about tackling what both countries fear could be a human smuggling operation with ties to the Tamil Tigers. Sri Lanka reached a similar deal with Australia last November.

Even though Canada has refused to respond publicly to the Lankan government's proposal, Toews has said the only way to prevent ships from coming here is to stop them before they leave foreign ports.

Chow laughed off Wagiswara's suggestion. "It is the same government that hasn't allowed international agencies and reporters to enter the war ravaged areas in the North; there's a complete black out." It's the Sri Lankan government that keeps claiming that LTTE has a role in this, she added.

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