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Stop Detentions! Stop Deportations! Status for All!

-- a statement on the detained Tamil Refugees and the Canadian Refugee system --

written by No One Is Illegal-Toronto and Tamil Youth Organization

Seventy six people from military occupied north and east Sri Lanka arrived off the coast of BC in a ship on Friday, 16 October, claiming refugee status. All but one of the men, ethnically Tamil, are still imprisoned. Days after their arrival, Kenney cut Canada's refugee acceptance targets by 60%, limiting acceptance to no more than 9,000 - 12,000 people a year. In 2008, the quota was 22,000-29,000 a year. Without any consultation, the Immigration Minister has undemocratically and fundamentally changed Canada's refugee system. The Immigration Minister has tried to belittle these migrants, calling their journey a justification for further changes.

These are not the first people to arrive by boat, seeking refuge. Yet like many before them they find themselves barred from entering Canada, locked in detention, and awaiting possible deportation.

In 1999, three ships arrived in Canada with 600 people from the Fujian province in China. They were detained for nearly a year and in the end only 15 were granted status. The rest were deported. On their return they were forced in to labor camps.

In 1939, 900 Jewish passengers fleeing Europe on board the MS St. Louis tried to seek refuge in Canada and were not allowed to disembark. Most were deported to Europe where they died under Nazi blitzkrieg. More than one-third of them were murdered in the Nazi gas chambers and internment camps.

In 1914, 354 people left from British occupied India on board the Komagata Maru. Moored off the coast of BC with next to no supplies for four months, essentially in captivity, the ship was forced to return. Many died en route and more when they arrived in India by British Police.

In every one of these cases, racist xenophobia exploded across Canada. In 1914, the headlines read, 'Hindus hold meeting and preach sedition and treason'; in 1939, the Director of Immigration said, 'none is too many'; in 1999, a Victoria newspaper headline read, 'Go home'; and in 2009, CIC Minister Kenney insists that they are coming in through the 'back door' in a 'generous' system.

But if this is the back door, where is the front door? According to the Canadian Council for Refugees, the United Nations set a goal of 560,000 resettled refugees for 2008/9 - of these Canada will only accept about 11,000. This is nearly half of Canada's annual acceptance rate of 21,400 in the 1980s. Contrast this with Syria, Lebanon and Jordan who between them accepted 885,000 Iraqi refugees in 2007, according to UNHCR spokesman Peter Kessler.

Overseas claims can only be made at UNHCR offices, usually in camps, which Sri Lanka has refused to be established in Tamil Eelam. Over 300,000 internally displaced Tamils have been held by the Sri Lankan Army for the past two months in barbed-wire fenced internment camps, where they are subject to massive overcrowding, shortage of food and medical facilities, abductions, including the abduction of children, rape, torture, disease, and when the monsoons set in, flooding.

The Times newspaper in England, one of the only journalist sources that gained entry to the camps, has reported that 1400 civilians are dying in the camps every single week. People in camps have few ways to apply for refuge in Canada as there are no nearby UNHCR offices and access to the Canadian consulate is restricted. Under present Canadian refugee policies, claimants are unlikely to gain status from outside Canada. Migrants have little choice but to arrive at the border with fake documents and ask for refuge. Exactly the process followed by the people that arrived last month.

Canada has called the War in Sri Lanka that led to the detention of over a quarter million people in camps, a "domestic" matter and demanded "non interference" from the UN. This, while, even Hillary Clinton has demanded that the Sri Lankan army be charged with War Crimes for using rape as a weapon against the civilian population.

Not only is the Canadian refugee process incredibly ungenerous, it is, at least partially, complicit in the war crimes of the Sri Lankan government. The Canadian government gave CAD $3million in untied aid to Sri Lanka during the bombings on Vanni that left untold dead. This complicity gives even more reason why the government must assume some responsibility for the 76 refugees. The same can be said of Canada's role in displacement in Afghanistan, Haiti, Mexico, Columbia, Palestine and almost every other country in our globalized world where Canadian mining companies control 60% of the global market and the Canadian military actively takes part in occupations.

Instead of describing refugees as being part of the immigrant community, and Canada, many are reinforcing racist stereotypes dividing communities. The Immigration Minister is proposing a closing off of borders. A new refugee system is under discussion that would severely limit the capacity of people to claim status in Canada. Though details are unclear, the cutting of refugee quotas by 60%, indicate that changes will be even more exclusionary and non democratic. Jason Kenney has gone on record saying that the system will be re-vamped by Christmas, most likely through the establishment of stratified acceptance process for people applying from countries that Canada has trade relations with.

People displaced by Canada and its interests are specially part of Canada's communal responsibility. We cannot let these refugees be used as scapegoats by Kenney. The recent changes in the Immigration system have emerged without public consultation and must be challenged. This is not only a Tamil issue or a refugee issues. It's an issue of injustice. Lets all join together to fight it.

Release the 76 detainees! Status for All!

Endorsed by: Canadian Tamil Congress