The Canadian Council for Refugees, Amnesty International Canada and the Canadian Tamil Congress today called on Canadians to be mindful of the need to honour international human rights obligations, in responding to the Tamils believed to be on board a boat approaching North America.
“Over the years Canada has saved the lives of thousands of Tamils fleeing persecution, by providing access to a fair and independent refugee system,” said Wanda Yamamoto, CCR President. “Whether they arrive by plane, foot or boat, people seeking refuge from human rights abuses have a right to an individual hearing on the reasons why they fled – a right recently reaffirmed by Parliament. In respecting this right we take a stand against the persecutors and the human rights violators.”
In recently published guidelines on Sri Lankan refugee claims, the UN Refugee Agency notes that groups potentially at risk of persecution in Sri Lanka include journalists, human rights activists, lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) individuals and persons suspected of having links with the LTTE (Tamil Tigers).
“Amnesty International has extensively documented the use by the Sri Lankan government of anti-terrorism laws to silence human rights activists, journalists, and other critics. Sri Lankans suspected, even if wrongly, of being LTTE supporters have been routinely imprisoned and tortured,” said Alex Neve, Secretary General, Amnesty International Canada.
“It is disturbing to hear some public comments that seem to follow this lead by labelling Tamil asylum seekers as “terrorists” before they have even had a chance to tell their story. Canadian and international law requires that refugees have access to individual and unbiased determination of their claim to need protection.”
Canadian law also provides for the identification of individuals who have committed serious human rights violations or who represent a risk to Canadian security, including of course any LTTE members who fit these categories. Such persons are ineligible for refugee status and may be removed from Canada.
“Taking to the seas in a boat like this is very risky,” said David Poopalapillai, National Spokesperson, Canadian Tamil Congress. “We can only imagine that the people on board must have been very desperate to undertake such a dangerous voyage. We hope that our fellow Canadians will listen sympathetically to their stories and will support the government’s fair application of the law.”