Making Peace Vigil

Standing up for peace

TAMIL ASYLUM SEEKERS

Posted by strattof on August 27, 2010

Canadians like to think of ourselves as hospitable people. But Canadian hospitality has been in short supply in the case of the 492 Tamil asylum seekers from Sri Lanka who recently arrived in British Columbia on the MV Sun Sea. Rather than welcoming the migrants after their dangerous four month journey risking death on a rusty cargo vessel, we have succumbed to national panic and hysteria.

Without any evidence, government authorities and media outlets have labeled the Tamils “terrorists,” “queue jumpers,” “illegals,” and ”criminals.”  Adding to the fear-mongering, Prime Minister Harper has spoken of threats to “the security of our borders” and the need for tougher refugee laws to tackle the “trend” of boatloads of would-be migrants arriving in Canada.

Given the culture of fear created by our leaders and media, it is no wonder that a recent Angus Reid poll shows that 48% of Canadians think the Sun Sea’s passengers and crew should be immediately deported to their country of origin. (35% think they should be allowed to stay in Canada as refugees.)

As for the Tamil asylum seekers, the 380 men, 50 women, and 49 children have all been detained in correctional centres (ie prisons). At their detention hearings, all the adults are in handcuffs.   

 MISSING FACTS

  • Last October when 76 Tamil asylum seekers arrived on the Ocean Lady, they were similarly labeled as terrorists and security threats. By January, all had been released from detention after the Canadian Border Services Agency admitted it had no evidence of terrorist connections.  
  • There is no queue for refugee claimants. Refugees are forced from their home countries to seek protection from harm. Nor are refugee claimants “illegal migrants.” They are asylum seekers.  Canadian and international law recognizes that refugees may be forced to travel irregularly, including by boat, to seek safety.  
  • According to Amnesty International, Tamils are at risk of persecution in Sri Lanka.
  • Canada receives about 30,000 refugee claimants each year. Most claimants arrive by plane or overland. The 492 Tamils represent less than 2% of the annual intake.
  • Over the past 10 years, only 5 boats of migrants have turned up on Canadian shores.
 

NATIONAL AMNESIA

Have we forgotten that, with the exception of First Nations, all Canadians are of immigrant or refugee stock? Indeed, prior to World War II, there was no legal distinction between immigrants and refugees.

 Like the Tamil migrants, some of these immigrant/refugee ancestors arrived on Canadian shores fleeing persecution. Others came as economic migrants, looking for a better life.

Compare our reception of the Tamil migrants to the one given to the first boatloads of immigrants/refugees to arrive in Canada. First Nations not only welcomed the new arrivals, but also helped them to establish new lives. As indicated by Susanna Moodie–author of the Canadian classic Roughing It in the Bush, who arrived in Canada in 1832– without First Nations assistance, many of the newcomers would not have survived in Canada.  

TAKE ACTION

  • Find out more about Tamil asylum seekers, by going to  rabble.ca/news/2010/08/seven-myths-about-tamil-refugees
  • For more information on Canadian refugee law, go to www.globaldetentionproject.org and click your way to “Canada Detention Profile.”
  • Sign the petition to Uphold the Rights of the Sun Sea Migrants:            www.petitiononline.com/mod_perl/signed.cgi?16082010
  • Contact Canadian leaders and let them know 
  1. You want Canada to welcome the Tamil asylum seekers.
  2. You want the Canadian government to stop its racist stereotyping of all Tamils as terrorists. Such stereotyping fuels public fears.
  3. You want the Tamil asylum seekers released from detention immediately.
  4. You want the refugee claims of each Tamil asylum seeker to be determined fairly and efficiently and in accordance with Canadian and international refugee law.

          Prime Minister Stephen Harper: pm@pm.gc.ca or 613-992-4211.

          Minister of Citizenship and Immigration, Jason Kenney: minister@cic.gc.ca or 613-992-2235

          Minister of Public Safety, Vic Toews: toews.v@parl.gc.ca or 613-992-3128 

CANADIAN REFUGEE HISTORY: KEY EVENTS 

  • 1914: When the Komagata Maru, a ship carrying 376 Sikh, Hindu, and Muslim passengers, arrived in Vancouver harbour, Canadian authorities did not permit it to dock. Nor did they allow food and water to be provided for the passengers. Eventually the ship was forced to return to India where 19 of the passengers were shot and killed by British India police. In 2008, Prime Minister Harper apologized to South Asian Canadians for the Komagata Maru incident–one of many incidents in the history of early 20th century Canada involving racist laws designed to keep out non-white immigrants.
  • 1939: When the St. Louis arrived in Halifax harbour, Canadian officials refused to allow any of its 739 German Jewish refugee passengers to land, forcing it to return to Europe where many passengers died in Nazi concentration camps. In a 1995 speech in Toronto, Prime Minister Jean Chrétien apologized to Holocaust survivors for Canada’s systematic exclusion of Jewish immigrants and refugees between 1933 and 1948. 
  • 1967: Canada belatedly signed the 1951 Geneva Convention relating to the Status of Refugees. The Convention’s definition of “refugee” still stands today: a refugee is a person who “owing to well-founded fear of being persecuted for reasons of race, religion, nationality, membership of a particular social group, or political opinion, is outside the country of his nationality and is unable to or, owing to such fear, is unwilling to avail himself of the protection of that country.” 
  •  1986: The United Nations awarded the Nansen medal to the Canadian people in “recognition of their major and sustained contribution to the care of refugees.” 
  •  2001-2010: Over this period, Canada’s refugee policies have grown increasingly restrictive. ►In 2001, Canada passed the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act, which authorizes immigration officers to arrest and detain refugee claimants and allows for secret evidence in closed hearings. ►In 2004. Canada implemented a “safe third country” agreement with the United States, which effectively eliminates refugee clams at land border crossings. ►Last week, Prime Minister Harper vowed “to strengthen” Canada’s refugee laws.

A WARNING FOR OUR TIME

 First they came for the refugees.

I remained silent because I was not a refugee.

Then they came for the new immigrants.

I did not speak up because I was not one of them.

 Next they went after Muslim Canadians.

Again I remained silent. I was not one of them either.   

When they came for peace and justice activists

I also said nothing.  

By the time they came for me

There was no one left to speak up.

 (A contemporary version of Martin Niemöller’s warning to his fellow Germans)

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