Canada’s Decision on Tamil Refugee Claims Unrealistic

Canada rushed to take its stance on Sri Lanka just days before the Canadians were preparing for their holidays in December.  Tamils now no longer have the right to seek refugee status in Canada.  Canada no longer considers the Sri Lankan government a threat to the Tamil people.  The Canadian government feels the human rights situation on the island has improved since mid-2010, just a year after the Sri Lankan armed forces claimed to have eliminated the Tamil Tigers’ war for an independent Tamil State.

Canada’s Immigration and Refugee Board (IRB) introduced the new policy on Tamils who seek political asylum in Canada on the grounds that although the refugee board adjudicators are not forced to follow the new guidelines, for the IRB such notes “are offered to members as models of sound reasoning that may be adopted in appropriate circumstances.”  This is really a frightening decision of the IRB as it demonstrates that the Canadian government led by Stephen Harper has made such a hasty decision without knowing what is really happening on the ground in the Tamils areas in Sri Lanka.

The new policy, no doubt, could affect refugee claimants who arrived in Vancouver in 2009 and 2010 aboard the Ocean Lady and MV Sun Sea.  The 76 Tamils who arrived in 2009 applied for refugee status, but the refugee board has not taken any action on their files.  The 492 Tamil refugees who arrived last year have applied for political asylum, but their cases are also pending.  It is worth mentioning that one-fourth of the refugees who arrived last year have been detained in detention centres in British Columbia and two of the asylum seekers have been branded as being affiliated to the militant LTTE.

Canada wants precedence to reject Tamils’ claims for refugee status

In this context, the case cited in the new IRB policy involved a 25-year-old Tamil male from Sri Lanka. It is worth mentioning that this youth arrived in Canada by air.  This particular claimant had told the refugee board that he had been, and would be, persecuted by the Sri Lankan army, government officials, and paramilitary agents associated with the Sri Lankan government if he returned to Sri Lanka.

The claimant also told the board that he was arrested by Sri Lankan forces in 2006, interrogated, hit in the stomach and pushed against a wall. He moved to a different location with a friend soon afterwards, but was detected by government forces the next year. He said his friend was eventually executed. The claimant fled to Malaysia in 2007 before arriving in Canada in 2009.

The IRB tribunal rejected his refugee claim in November. It was cited in the persuasive decision four weeks later on December 17, 2010.  The ruling said: “The claimant is not a person in need of protection in that his removal to Sri Lanka would not subject him personally to a risk to his life.”

The IRB said: “The reasons cite the documentary evidence which relates to changes that took place in Sri Lanka recently and conclude with a finding that the changes are meaningful and durable and that the claimant’s fear of persecution based on his particular social group, perceived political opinion and nationality is not well founded.”

How does Canada not know what is happening?

It is unfortunate that Canada employs dozens of diplomats in Sri Lanka at the Canadian High Commission in Colombo who do not know the ground reality in the North and East of Sri Lanka, which are the traditional homeland of Tamils where over 150,000 Sri Lankan armed forces have been deployed despite that the government claiming that it has crushed the Tamil Tigers in May 2009.  The situation worsens by the day. The Sri Lankan government has been deploying more and more armed forces into Tamil villages to build new military residences with China’s assistance.

Another shocking story is that the Sri Lankan army is going to be deployed on the islets off the shores of Jaffna where already the Sri Lankan naval bases and the paramilitaries supporting the government have been put up.  The Canadian High Commissioner, along with senior officials, paid several visits to the Tamil areas after the LTTE silenced their guns in 2009.  It is shocking evidence that the Canadian High Commissioner and senior officials who are being paid from Canadian tax-payers money have not updated the ground reality in the North and East of Sri Lanka where human rights abuses are on the rise daily.

Kidnapping for ransom, murder, rape, robbery, and disappearances are increasing in various places in the North and East, especially Jaffna, in spite of it being a military garrison. There is not a day that passes without a report on crime. Many events can be cited to demonstrate the current situation in Tamil areas.  There are many untold stories taking place despite the fact that many people fail to report to the police or any other officials due to the fear that they will be prosecuted by the armed forces who are wandering around the streets of Tamil villages, towns, and cities with military uniform and arms. Even President Rajapaksa, whose agents commit these crimes, has stated publicly, while in Jaffna, that these criminals underground would not show their heads anymore.

A few of the shocking events are: A Hindu priest was shot dead, using a gun owned by the military, for performing rites for tsunami victims. A government education officer was shot dead because he objected to the national anthem being sung in Sinhala only in Jaffna. An environmentalist was murdered for exposing a Sri Lankan minister and India’s favourite, Douglas Devananda, for making millions of rupees by removing sand and causing environmental damage. So the list goes on.  It is indeed frustrating that Canada falls victim to the Sri Lankan government’s false propaganda.

Senior government officials acknowledge law and order worsen

The Government Agent of Jaffna, Ms Imelda Sukumar, the principal civil representative of the government in Jaffna, spoke to media personnel when they raised questions about the law and order in Jaffna, suggesting the police should be replaced by the military, as if Jaffna is not militarized enough.  It is surprising that over 150,000 Sri Lankan armed forces are wandering in the streets of North and East, but the irresponsible statement of Sukumar demonstrates that the law and order cannot be returned soon.  She claims that more armed forces should be deployed to return the areas to normalcy.

Sukumar, for reasons well known to her, shifted the blame on to another government agency instead of holding the government wholly responsible for the complete breakdown of the justice system and the collapse of law and order in Jaffna.  Jaffna is a veritable jungle, a mini police State where State terrorism remains.

The residents in northern Jaffna and Vavuniya were advised by two senior Police superintendents in leaflets, widely distributed, to wear only imitation jewellery and take extra steps to protect their homes. They were advised not to leave their door keys hidden under door rugs or flower pots, but to have a spare key if another family member needed one. When leaving home, lock the doors properly and inform the neighbours about their departure. They were told not to travel alone when wearing gold jewellery, as criminals may trick and rob their jewellery.

The people were told to beware of strangers or strange vehicles coming to their areas and to note down the numbers and other details. This is just a usual story to hoodwink them to show that robbery is the motive for such crimes and to sidetrack the issue from the real situation and the political and racist undertones.

Unnumbered white van kidnapping is a common occurrence. Once they come in a group armed with guns, there is nothing anyone can do about it.  No unnumbered vehicle is permitted to move around in any civilized country, let alone a militarized area, such as Jaffna. So it is the security forces that have to do the prevention and not unarmed civilians.

Parents were advised not to send children out of their homes alone. The question is how do the parents go about their work if they have to follow their children to school?

The police also advised people to number the valuable goods at home or label them and to do the same for electric equipment, motor bikes, and so forth.

The police have also advised the residents to keep their doors and windows closed, even during the day time if there is only one person in the house. At night, they are advised to make sure the doors and windows are closed and to keep a bulb switched on.

The public was told that if any member of the defence force comes for inspection, they should ask for their official identity cards before opening the door and ensure they are accompanied by a police officer from the area. This is a guaranteed recipe for violence and death, as most of the uniformed personal are thugs and they themselves commit the robbery. Moreover they carry false identity cards with government patronage.

Shop owners have been advised to leave a light on outside their shops after their closure and to keep someone inside the shop. The police say the people have a right to protect their lives and property in such instances. If the criminals attempt to flee, they have a right to take them into custody and then inform the village officer or the police.

What logic!  How do unarmed civilians arrest fully-armed criminals? All the above recommendations can be carried out only by the police as they are the only ones empowered by the law to do so. They are also paid to do their job.

This is Sri Lanka’s version of maintaining ‘law and order’.  One of Wikileak’s revelations was that the American Ambassador, Patricia A. Butenis, was of the view that the para-military groups were given the liberty to raise their own funds by whatever means — kidnapping, robbery, prostitution, and child-trafficking — as the government was no longer able to finance their maintenance. The military has also joined in this multi-million rupee business, so how could the police act?

Crime is a money making business for the armed forces. Moreover, the best means of silencing people who oppose government policies is to eliminate them. Only the international community can get the Tamils of Sri Lanka out of this culture of impunity by imposing sanctions.  The US and EU, who have awoken to the realities of the situation, may be willing to do so, but India and China will continue to support Rajapaksa and Company of brothers and close relatives.

The current situation in the Tamil homeland shows that there is no protection for the Tamils whatsoever. They are exposed to the worst of crimes. The human rights situation has gotten worse.  When the LTTE was in action militarily, the enemies thought a second before conducting any violation against the Tamils, but after the LTTE entered into ceasefire agreement with the Sri Lankan government in 2002 with the facilitation of Norwegian government, the atrocities of Sri Lankan armed forces ran rampant against Tamils.  With the complete silence of the LTTE guns, human rights abuses have worsened.

Canada’s Immigration and Refugee Board’s (IRB) new policy is dangerous and violates its own Charter and the international convention.  Unless the Tamil Canadians wake up and rise to the level where they can exert pressure upon the Canadian government to intervene in altering the new policy introduced by the IRB, many other countries will follow suit with the Canadian policy not to acknowledge the Tamils who are lacking protection in Sri Lanka and will help to deteriorate the efforts of countries which are taking steps to bring the perpetrators of the war crimes to book.

Satheesan Kumaaran writes on Sri Lanka and be reached at: Read other articles by Satheesan.