Vilifying genuine refugees

Why not allow the immigration officials to determine who are genuine refugees?

Why not allow the immigration officials to determine who are genuine refugees?

Editor, The News:

Re: Out of the line of fire (The News, Jan. 28).

The arrival of 492 Sri Lankan Tamil refugees has triggered a predictable wave of xenophobia, not the least of which has come from our own Canadian politicians and some Sri Lankans.

Certain federal politicians and government officials have decided to exploit this phobia of common people to gain votes and cheap popularity with their sensational quotes such as: “We won’t allow Canada to become a place of refuge for violent criminals”; “We will not support those who want to create a two-tier immigration system: one tier for law-abiding immigrants who wait patiently in the queue, and a second, for criminals and terrorists who jump the queue.”

Let me address their first concern with rhetorical questions. Isn’t this a preemptive criminalization of 492 men, women and children prior to their trials without giving them any benefit of doubt?

Do you really believe that all are violent criminals, including the children? Why not allow the immigration officials to determine who are genuine refugees, instead of branding them all as criminals?

The second concern shows a lack of knowledge of our immigration and refugee laws. Already, Canada has a two-pronged system; check the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act (IRPA) that legislates the entrance of both immigrants and refugees.

There is a clear distinction and corresponding legal process for entering Canada as an immigrant or as a refugee. The queue for immigrants starts in their home countries, but not for refugees. In other words, there is absolutely no queue jumping by these boat people.

Should we punish them for illegal entry (entering without proper documents, such as entry visas) in to our country?

The resolution put forward during the 1951 Refugee Convention, whose signatories include Canada, clearly stipulates that asylum seekers cannot be penalized for illegal entry.

How on earth can you expect a prospective refugee, who is fleeing from his or her country to save his or her life and family’s, to apply for a visa in his or her country of persecution?

According to United Nations report‚ Asylum Levels & Trends in Industrialized Countries for 2009, here are the top six populations of origin of asylum applicants to Canada: Mexico, 7,561; Hungary, 2,518; Columbia, 2,292; Czech. Rep, 2,016; China, 1,484; Haiti, 1,134.

Sri Lanka did not come in the top six countries. Total of asylum seekers of Sri Lankan origin for 2009 to Canada is 825. This number includes those who came by the boat.

Are we picking on these Sri Lankan Tamils just because they traveled to Canada by a decrepit cargo ship and took three months to arrive, with a loss of one human life and not by a luxury cruise ship from Mexico in seven days?

Please compare and contrast Mexico and Sri Lanka with respect to human rights violations before you vilify Tamil refugees from Sri Lanka. Did you folks ever wonder why there are no boatloads of Tamils from India or Singapore?

India has a much larger population of Tamils who live with no fear of persecution. I am still not convinced that Sri Lanka’s president himself ordered the army to commit human genocide, ethnic cleansing, and murders of Tamils, who surrendered holding white flags.

Last year, I had an opportunity to interview some of the Tamil refugees who came on Ocean Lady. I asked them‚ “Why did you choose Canada as your destination? What made you to undertake such a tedious, torturous and risky travel by boat to Canada?”

The answer given by a father was, “I want to live in a country where my sons won’t to be torched alive and my daughters won’t be gang raped only because they belong to a minority race.”

Can you name any country better than Canada that can pride itself on being a land of immigrants, refugees and committed to humanitarian values?

Let us come together as fellow human beings to help this unfortunate group of fleeing people in their endeavor to find a country where basic human rights are respected.

Sam Nalliah, M.Sc.


Not their advocate

Editor, The News:

Re: Out of the line of fire (The News, Jan. 28).

John McKenzie writes, “Canada has a long tradition of welcoming refugees who are fleeing war zones, whether it was the Jews escaping the horrors of the Nazis in the Second World War or …”

While an estimated 6,000,000 people died in the Holocaust, the majority being Jews, Canada only accepted only 5,000. The highest accepted was by the U.S. (102,000), then Argentina (63,000), deplorable statistics all. Most other countries turned a blind eye.

While Canada did not have a refugee policy at the time and there was the depression with high unemployment, widespread anti-Semitism in Canada cannot be ignored.

After Kristallnacht in 1938, the Canadian Jewish Congress offered to guarantee the support of 10,000 Jewish refugees, the Canadian government rejected the offer. Canada was definitely not their advocate.

Cherryl Katnich

Maple Ridge