Home » News

Why Canada should not discriminate against only Tamil refugees from Sri Lanka, fleeing from injustice and persecution!

[Press Release, Tuesday, 31 August 2010 14:57 One Comment]

By Satheesan Kumaaran

Canada is a home to about 34 million people with the total area of 9,984,670 square kilometers, the second largest country in the world, after Russia. Canada was originally occupied by the Aboriginals who must have settled tens of thousands of years ago from Asia, through Bering Sea, although many Aboriginals disagree with this theory. Nonetheless, Canada has been home to the people who had emigrated from various parts of the world. Now the Tamils who flee their homeland to escape the racist persecution of the Sinhala-majority Sri Lankan government are trying to set foot on Canadian soil as refugees. Heated debate now rages amongst the Canadians who were themselves immigrants one way or the other. However, the Canadian government is trying to brush off these particular refugees, labeling them as terrorists, human smugglers, queue jumpers, etc.

The already physically and mentally wounded refugees are facing another set of mental harassment and uncertainty by these debates, and the Canadian government, too, is deliberating as to how to deal with this issue. Canadian Prime Minister Stephan Harper, has recently said that his government will bring tough laws against undocumented people who arrive by boats. Fair enough.

The 492 people, who sailed through the Pacific from Southeast Asia for nearly three months in a small cargo ship only 59 metres long, and 10 metres wide, plead that they are genuine refugees. They wanted to sing the Canadian National Anthem just as other Canadians: “O Canada! Our home and native land! True patriot love in all thy sons command. With glowing hearts we see thee rise, The True North strong and free! From far and wide, O Canada, we stand on guard for thee. God keep our land glorious and free! O Canada, we stand on guard for thee. O Canada, we stand on guard for thee.”

The refugees say that they are not economic, nor any other type, of asylum seekers other than being genuine refugees who fled their homeland to escape the country’s discriminatory Sinhala government, a government who claims to be rebuilding the Tamil areas after the war that ended last year. According to media reports, the situation in the Sri Lankan Tamil areas is as bad it was during the war. Disappearances, rape and other forms of violations are a daily occurrence in Tamil areas. Tens of thousands of Sinhala armed forces are wandering around the streets of Tamil villages with the aim to colonize the Tamil areas with Sinhala population. This is a daily event in Tamil areas.

Refugees contribute whole-heartedly to adopted countries

Refugees contribute towards building the countries of their adoption with their skills and manpower. Canada’s Minister of Citizenship, Immigration, and Multiculturalism, Jason Kenney, said in a release on November 28, 2008, that Canada would stay the course on immigration in 2009, welcoming between 240,000 and 265,000 new permanent residents.

He said: “While countries such as the United Kingdom and Australia are talking about taking fewer immigrants, our planned numbers for 2009 are on par with last year and are among the highest for this country over the past 15 years…The numbers reflect a continued commitment to an immigration program that balances Canada’s economic, humanitarian and family reunification goals.”

He said that the 2009 plan includes up to 156,600 immigrants in the economic category; 71,000 in the family category; and 37,400 in the humanitarian category. Upon the 492 Tamil refugees, of which 383 men, 63 women and 49 children arriving on August 13th, Kenney and Canada’s Minister of Public Safety, Vic Toews, has been mouthing words like terrorists, human traffickers and queue jumpers. This is an absolutely callous manner to describe genuine refugees who flee prosecution.

Canada is signatory to the 1951 UN Convention on Refugees, which clearly stated that there are no penalties on refugees who arrive without re-authorization and irregularly. However, Canadian government leaders keep on saying now that they will bring strict laws against the people who take illegal means through ships without proper documents. It is a pity because how could the refugees get documents, as they are fleeing prosecution by their own States? If these people had planned to travel somewhere, then they would have documents, but these people never planned to leave the country. They were forced to flee their homes due to the prosecution by their own State.

People who flee their home countries by ships take very high risks. One could imagine how difficult a three month journey through the high seas would be. The Canadian authorities have acknowledged that one of the refugees died on the way, on July 28. The deceased was a 37-year old family man who left behind his wife and child in Sri Lanka. It is inhumane to condemn these refugees. Yes, they were seeking greener pastures, pastures to be free from persecution. Canada is already home to over 300,000 Tamils who fled their homeland and they have been regarded as hardworking, polite and law-abiding citizens who contribute economically to the growth of Canada. These Tamils are disappointed about the words that are being used by some leading ministers. The Canadian Tamil citizens demand that Tamil migrants be immediately released from detention, that their rights as migrants be upheld and they be granted permanent status and that the racist criminalization of these refugees immediately cease.

Why such a big deal?

Canada welcomes tens of thousands of asylum seekers every year to replace an aging and shrinking work force as the baby-boomer era passes, leaving fewer workers and contributors to society. As the baby-boomer generation ages, this leaves a void of a productive workforce that must be filled to maintain a viable society. Canada is a signatory to the UN convention on refugees, and claims that it respects humanity throughout the world. Yet, its actions seem peculiar because it says one thing, and does something entirely opposite, an entirely inhumane action against the refugees.

Providing more opportunities for other classes of asylum seekers and giving fewer opportunities in accepting real refugees on the basis of humanitarianism is frustrating because other asylum seekers can live anywhere, but the Tamil refugees cannot. They should be given protection and they should be allowed to live peacefully to be healed from the scars of the torture and rape of their people by the terrorist State of Sri Lanka.

Some sections of the media are claiming that, after they obtained Canadian citizenship, thousands of Tamils traveled back to Sri Lanka. These media outlets should understand that the Canadian Tamils who travel to Sri Lanka are Canadians who are protected from the perils faced by the Tamils of Sri Lanka. As Canadian citizens, they have the privilege enjoyed as other Canadians, so they are respected by the Sri Lankan authorities, and if any harm happens to them, the Canadian government would intervene in solving their problems. Also, many Tamils want to travel back to Sri Lanka to see their villages and relatives after decades of war. Some of them visit there to get married, and some of them visit to see annual temple celebrations.

Although the war has ceased in Sri Lanka, rape, disappearance and other forms of violations with impunity continue against the Tamils who live on the island. However, Canadian citizens have the privilege to travel back home and return safely. As a Canadian citizen, a Tamil should have the right to travel to any part of the world and return home. Comparing the Canadian citizens travelling to Sri Lanka with the current influx of refugees from Sri Lanka is ridiculous. One should look at both scenarios differently.

Canada continues to use a Sinhalese, who is a supporter of the Sri Lankan government, a fraud who acts against the Tamils, none other than the self proclaimed expert on terrorism, Dr Rohan Gunaratna. He had unsuccessfully tried to link the LTTE with the Al Qaeda and even the Taliban. Last October, when the 76 Tamil refugees arrived on Ocean Lady, they were similarly labeled as terrorists and security threats. However by Jan 2010, they were all released from detention when Canadian Border Services Agency admitted they had no evidence of a terrorist connection. Gunaratna said that the people aboard the ship were all LTTE members.  However, after severe interrogations and verification of their identities, the Canadian authorities came to the conclusion that these people were genuine refugees. 

In the long run, none of Gunaratna’s unsupported claims against the 76 asylum seekers held up. Gunaratna had already been discredited by lawyers as well as an Immigration and Refugee Board adjudicator for being not credible. His resume credentials have been disproved. Yet, inexplicably, he is still advising the Canadian government, and for weeks, politicians and media outlets have been promoting his biased point of view in anticipation of this new boat’s landing. Gunaratna still does not name his sources nor offer any evidence to back up his devious allegations.

It is a well known fact that Gunaratna, an anti-Tamil racist, says what some world leaders like to hear. For instance, when the Americans declared war on Saddham Hussein of Iraq, Gunaratna said that Saddham was a supporter of Al Qaeda and he also said that Australia was in danger of being attacked by the Al Qaeda just to support the then prime minister Howard to gain credibility.

He does not have any evidence to prove that these people on board are members of the LTTE.  This so-called expert fails to disclose that since 1984, he has worked closely with the Sri Lankan government as an advisor and continues to promote their interests passionately. It is pity that the Canadian government is using Gunaratna to suit their convenience.

Fair and reasonable hearing a must

It is important that the refugees be treated fairly and justly. Canada should hear their reasons as to why are they coming to Canada.  And they should undergo Canadian security clearance and all these should be heard fairly and reasonably before making any decision on the status of these refugees.  Canadians who are sympathetic towards genuine refugees hope that Canada will not commit any humanitarian blunder by sending back the genuine refugee claimants who really fled the war in search of protection. Canadian society should not fall victim to sentiments and emotions given expression by some sinister elements to tarnish the image of genuine refugees. To act on the fraudulent advice of a well known racist is a travesty of human rights justice.

Two letters sent by the refugees to the National Post newspaper, an exclusive written by Stewart Bell, on August 17, 2010, under the caption, “Fleeing hell in Sri Lanka: Migrants” clearly explained the feelings of the refugees. One of the letters said: “Initially, we would like to express our gratitude to the Canadian Government and the people of Canada. When we made our plea from the Pacific Ocean "we are civilians, please save us," you did not hesitate to come and take us ashore and provide us with food, water, and fruits. This has assured us with the safety of our lives…The Sri Lankan Government says that the ethnic conflict in Sri Lanka has come to an end. However, neither the Prevention of Terrorism Act [which allows for arbitrary arrest of civilians] nor the Emergency Regulations Act has been abolished.

Innocent Tamil people detained in prisons have not been released. Displaced civilians have not been resettled in their own homes. Instead, there are widespread occurrences of disappearances, mass murders and extortion. The Sri Lankan Government is only conducting false propaganda internationally for its personal gains…We would like to ask the Canadian people and the Canadian Government to have faith in us to believe that we are innocent civilians who have been affected by the conflict. We are not terrorists. We would also like to let you know that we will abide and live by the laws of this country.”

The second letter said: “We, the people who have arrived in the ship “Sun Sea” would like to express the following to the Canadian people and the Canadian Government: We have undergone severe hardships with very little or no access to basic necessities such as food, water, sleeping space, medicine and sanitary facilities. We have travelled for almost four months with much suffering and pain.

We have come here, to this wonderful country Canada, to protect ourselves and our family members from the murders, disappearances and violence that still exist in our native country. As a country which has embraced immigrants and migrants, we hope and believe that you will accept us, the refugees and we vow to wholeheartedly abide by the law and order of this country — Tamil people from the Sun Sea ship.”

Canada’s Liberal Party leader Michael Ignatieff said on the issue of Tamil refugees that Canadians need to stand back and take a deep breath when it comes to the discussion around the almost 500 migrants who arrived on our soil a little over a week ago: “Government is trying to scare Canadians by telling them terrorists were on board the MV Sun Sea…We should put our faith in the refugee system to weed out those who don’t deserve asylum in Canada…Let’s just lower that rhetoric here. Let’s lower the temperature. Give our officials a chance to sort out who’s who. And also never forget that this country has been a home to refugees, and I think it should remain so…My father sought refuge in Canada, after escaping Communist Russia, and that’s why I believe every person on the ship deserves a fair hearing.”

The New Democratic Party said: “The arrival of Tamil boat people seeking refuge in Canada is a symptom of the continued humanitarian suffering in Sri Lanka. It’s time for the government of Canada to rally international efforts to pressure the Sri Lankan government improve living conditions on the ground…What motivated these people to take such a dangerous journey is the violence, insecurity, mass detention and human rights violations that have been widely reported by independent observers.”

It further said: “Canada missed an opportunity in post-conflict Sri Lanka for leadership in reconciliation, justice, and institution building to ensure that peace and stability are equitable and sustainable,” said Dewar. “The Conservatives should stop blaming the victims of the conflict who are now seeking asylum in Canada and instead rally the international community around improving the conditions on the ground in Sri Lanka.”

The Canadian ruling party and some sections of media should not fuel fire on already wounded refugees. It is no doubt that these refugees will be loyal to Canada forever. Seeing them with different eyes, and using words such as terrorists, human smugglers, queue jumpers, etc., is unprofessional to the already suffering people, escaping the prosecution of Sri Lankan State. These refugees will sing the national Canadian anthem “Oh Canada” forever, and they will be “True patriot love in all thy sons command”.

Even when the Tamils leave Sri Lanka they are not left alone. The fact that the Sri Lankan authorities pursuing these refugees to want to get away from their persecution, oppression and hunted all the way up to the very shores of the host countries, with all kinds of lies, to make them destitute wherever they go should open the eyes of the Canadian authorities as to their genocidal intentions. There are two main reasons for this, one being that they want to show the world that the situation for Tamils is now stable and the other is that some of these Tamils among the refugees could be potential witnesses to acts of genocide, human rights abuses, and other crimes against humanity committed against the innocent civilian Tamil people of whom more than 30,000 men women children the sick and the infirm were massacred during the first four months of 2009 including the attacks on civilian hospitals.

The real feelings of the Tamil refugees should be respected, and their sufferings should not be taken lightly. Politicians and media should not use these genuine refugees as just another method to gain readership, as it hurts the feelings of already suffering refugees.

(The author can be reached at e-mail: satheesan_kumaaran@yahoo.com)

(For updates you can share with your friends, follow TNN on Facebook, Twitter and Google+)

One Comment »

  • J. Johnny said:

    A fine article by Satheesan! It articulates the sufferings and sentiments of the long-oppressed Tamil community very well.

    It’s an utter disgrace for a country of Canada’s international standards to blame the victims and not voice even a whisper of condemnation at the persecutor.. the genocidal Sri Lankan state!

    It continues to be whitewashed by the modern master of propaganda, Rohan Gunaratna, against the reality of truth of the multitude. It’s hightime Canada wakes up from its folly and realise it’s humanitarian blunder!

    The racist treatment of innocent Tamils at both sides of the shore, continues to make them victims without voices.

    All must see the post here > http://bit.ly/9sId8k