United States Virginia change
Sri Lanka Breaking News
Sri Lanka parliament
vivalankaSri Lanka newsSri Lanka businessSri Lanka sportsSri Lanka technologySri Lanka travelSri Lanka videosSri Lanka eventssinhala newstamil newsSri Lanka business directory
vivalanka advertising
Menu
Stay Connected
facebooktwittermobile
Popular Searches
T20 World Cup
Sponsored Links
Sri Lanka Explorer

We acknowledge that the situation for Tamils in Sri Lanka continues to be disfficult

Nov 2, 2010 6:11:17 AM- transcurrents.com

by Jason Kenney

(Jason Kenney, the federal Minister of Citizenship, Immigration and Multiculturalism, visited The Globe and Mail editorial board on Monday, Nov 1st. The following is an edited transcript of that meeting, which focused on the government’s new legislation regarding refugee claimants and human smuggling, and the recent situation with refugees coming from Sri Lanka. Click on the links for more information about the legislation and the different responses to it.)

There are several of these [human smuggling] syndicates actually competing with each other for this business. They were involved in the arms trade in the Sri Lankan civil war, but since the cessation of hostilities have sought a new business line, a new commodity to smuggle, and that is human beings ... They are charging people on average about $50,000 to be smuggled to Canada in the most dangerous and worst way possible – in dangerous vessels that either have been decommissioned or should be.

This poses a serious challenge to the integrity and fairness and public support for Canada’s immigration system and our refugee protection system in particular. Since the arrival of the last vessel, there’s been a very significant drop-off in the general public support for immigration, and public support for refugee protection in particular. That’s something we need to be responsive to. Our security partners in Australia, for example, tell me they believe the syndicates targeting Canada have the logistical capability to deliver several large steel-hold vessels a year, each with hundreds of passengers ... Imagine this happening every month or every other month. That would fundamentally undermine public confidence and support for Canada’s generous approach to immigration and refugee protection – which is one of the reasons we need to take action to deter the smuggling networks and disincentivize their potential customers from buying the package to come to Canada ...

The public is pretty clear in their condemnation of this ... They want an immigration system that’s characterized by the principle of the rule of law and fairness, and they see this as a violation of those principles. And that feeling is strongest among new Canadians, in all of our research.

Some 60 per cent of Canadians have said we should prevent the boats from entering our territorial waters in the first place – which implies the use of force and the risk to human life, and that’s a risk we are not prepared to assume.

Over 50 per cent of Canadians in polling have said that those from these vessels who are deemed to be bona fide refugees should be deported back to their country of origin ...

We have decided instead to produce a balanced package which recognizes and upholds our international and domestic legal obligations – the essential obligation under the UN conventions for refugees and torture is an obligation of non-refoulement – that is to say, if someone has a well-founded fear of persecution, a risk to their life, a risk of torture, you can’t send them back to the country that they fear. And the package we propose would not do so ...

I believe that these migrants have mixed motives for coming to Canada: some are primarily economic migrants, some may well be bona-fide refugees ... and some of them have a mix of economic and political reasons ... I should say contextually, that since the cessation of hostilities in Sri Lanka, some 100,000 Sri Lankan refugees living in Tamil Nadu, India, have since voluntarily returned to Sri Lanka. The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees has facilitated the voluntary return of many Sri Lankans living with temporary status in southeast Asian nations. The Canadian Border Services Agency has done a survey which indicated that a majority of successful Tamil asylum seekers in Canada have subsequently returned, at least for visits, to the country where they allegedly feared persecution ...

We acknowledge that the situation for Tamils in Sri Lanka continues to be difficult ... We are also working with UNHCR, Australia and other international partners on the possibility of what we call a regional protection framework, which would allow for greater opportunities for protection and re-settlement ... in the southeast Asian region. Some people think we should put all of our eggs in that basket, but in fact that’s at best a mid-to-long-term remedy ...

We’re also working with the transit countries to improve their border security practices ...

You cannot curtail a black market service only by focusing on the supply side. You need to disincentivize prospective customers ... That is in part why we proposed a temporary status for five years for people who arrive in what we designate to be a human smuggling event ...

We need to change the business model by reducing the price. We believe the price is as high as it is – $50,000 being a counter-intuitively high price for people coming from a Third World country – because people are calculating that it leads to, not just their migration to Canada, but also their ability to sponsor several family members ... For us, this is probably the single most effective part of the package, and the one you’ve singled out ... for contention in your editorial ...

Under the new asylum that we’ve adopted which will be put into place next year, people who are bona fide claimants will get status from the Immigration and Refugee Board in about two to three months. So for bona fide refugees, we’re talking about an eight to 12 week period in detention. We think it’s a reasonable discrete use of detention to address the unique challenge posed by smuggling ...

On the high proportion of recent Tamil asylum seekers who have returned to Sri Lanka: Doesn’t that suggest an issue with the refugee determination process?

Obviously the IRB is an independent, quasi-judicial agency and I can’t comment on their decisions. I do note, as a point of interest, however, that the average acceptance rate for Sri Lanka asylum claimants in other Western democracies is about 20-25 per cent ... The IRB’s acceptance rate, so far this year, is 86 per cent.

Of ... many years of CSIS/RCMP interest in Tamil Tiger front groups ... they’ve convicted one guy ... You can’t even make the relatively low threshold that these are demonstrable threats. So is a criminal justice remedy going to curtail this at all? ... It’s nice to have the law, but can you enforce it?

... We’ve increased the RCMP by 1,500 additional personnel since we came to office. We increased the number of CBSA agents by 800. We’ve increased resources for CSIS as well. And that is reflected in the fact that we have much more robust assets on the ground in Thailand and border countries ... In terms of actually laying charges ... the RCMP is responsible for that ... And it’s their responsibility to do the investigations in their own way, according to their own timelines, and we’re obviously not going to interfere in that ...

In terms of charges of [Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam] activists ... the LTTE only became a listed, proscribed terrorist organization in 2006 when we took office. My understanding is that the security agencies recommended twice to the Liberal Cabinet that the LTTE be proscribed, but they refused to do so, obviously for domestic political reasons, which I think is one of the biggest scandals of the previous Liberal government, to be honest with you. So it’s only been essentially four years that the law enforcement agencies have been able to focus on the Tigers. And I think there have been more arrests, I’m not saying more convictions, but certainly more arrests, in both Montreal and Toronto ...

There’s a very interesting story on who is involved in the smuggling syndicates on the Canadian side ... and what’s happening to people smuggled here once they arrive? Because typically they are only paying about 10 per cent of their $50,000 fee up front. The balance represents a form of indentured status to the smuggling syndicate upon arrival in Canada. I’ve been told, by the Australians for example, that they believe those debts are paid off in part by compelling people to take part in criminal activity ... This is where you cross the line from smuggling to trafficking ...

What’s the response been from the other [political] parties [to the legislation]?

It’s not clear yet. There’s been a lot of rhetorical opposition to the legislation so far, but they haven’t had to vote on it. I think they know where the public stands on this ... I think the opposition parties have developed a kind of automatic reflex on issues like this, where they tend to echo the critique of the immigration industry, and the narrow special interests who take an ideological approach to these issues. I think actually we have an unbalanced debate on these issues in Canada.

Most Canadians don’t realize that we detain virtually no asylum claimants; most other liberal democracies detain all of them ...

I demonstrated our ability to work with the opposition parties through accepting constructive amendments to Bill C-11 in the spring, and to get unanimous consensus on the, we hope effective, reforms to the asylum system in general. If they have ideas on how to make this bill more effective, how to deter smugglers that would target Canada, we are all ears. However, if their amendments are all focused on diluting the deterrence aspects of the bill, we can’t support those ...

Amnesty International’s objection doesn’t appear to be ideological. It’s based on UN’s refugee convention and protocol. They say that the long detention of a certain class of refugees is unfair.

We fundamentally disagree. The UN convention doesn’t say anything about detention. This is exactly what I mean by ideological, referring specifically to them. They invent stuff that’s not in the convention. The reality is that international law recognizes that governments have the right to detain unidentified migrants, and to enforce their immigration laws. ... If we’re offside in what we’re proposing, then most other liberal democracies are far more offside in terms of detention provisions ...

Amnesty International – talk about how ideological they are on these issues – I used to belong to Amnesty International, I started a campus club for Amnesty International back when they were a human rights organization that was actually focused on their mandate of defending political prisoners around the world. They actually issued a statement criticizing our imposition of a visa on the Czech Republic and Mexico, and if you actually read their release, they are in principle against any visas at all, because they see a visa as a potential barrier to someone in need of Canada’s protection from coming to Canada ... that’s about as ideological as you can get. At least this particular branch of Amnesty International in Canada has become totally disconnected from reality when it comes to the need for a balance between our humanitarian obligations and a regulated immigration system.

If you’re going to re-try the case, almost, five years later, of those who arrived by ship, that’s sort of a slippery slope; if you did that with every refugee we took, even government-sponsored refugees, in many cases they would no longer qualify. So at some point don’t you just have to stand by the decision, and let them carry on and integrate and become citizens?

Yes, and that’s what the five year review would do. At five years, they’d go back to the IRB, and if country conditions have not significantly improved, they can apply for permanent residency, and in turn sponsor family members. So I think it’s a balance between our interest in their long-term integration, if they do need a durable solution. But it just says to them, before you choose to come to Canada this way, think twice, you can’t bet on permanent residency, on family reunification. The possibility is absolutely there, and we will provide those people in need of our long-term protection with the durable solution.

But we have nothing to apologize for on this. We accept more resettled refugees than any other country on a per capita basis, and our government is increasing that. Quite frankly, if you held a referendum on that, it wouldn’t pass ...

If there is a place of conciliation to get the bill through, would you be prepared to look at that? If you re-check their case in five years, and they’ve already started the family and are good citizens, of course their country conditions have likely changed ...

Under those circumstances, they would have access to the humanitarian and compassionate application ... and that’s another example of the generosity of our system.

The bill is a legal response to the problem. Pushing borders out is what might be termed an “extra-legal” or operational; our state agents don’t have any powers outside of the borders of Canada, generally. So a lot of people are looking at this and scratching their heads. To use an extreme example, on the front of the Wall Street Journal, the U.S. wants to send special forces to Yemen to kill terrorist leaders. That’s not going to happen in Southeast Asia. But what are we talking about when we’re pushing borders out? ... Are we going to try to disrupt networks over there? Are we going to fiddle with the engine of the boat?

I can’t comment on operational details. I can say obviously that our police operating abroad respect international law and the law of the countries in which they are functioning. And any actual enforcement action has to happen through the local police. So it’s really about building partnerships with the relevant local police and intelligence agencies, and I think you can see ways in which that has borne fruit in terms of deterrence.

You said the Tamils have been rounded up twice in the last month, maybe 250 in total, [and they] were coming. But would you have any way of knowing that for certain?

There is robust intelligence on these smuggling networks, and without commenting on details, they should know that we and our partners are onto them. - courtesy: The Globe And Nail -