October 19 2009, Vancouver – The immigrant and refugee rights group No One Is Illegal is demanding that officials respect the human rights of the seventy six migrants who arrived aboard the ship Ocean Lady this weekend off the shores of Vancouver Island. No One Is Illegal will be working with other community organizations and legal support networks to ensure the migrants are treated justly and with respect and dignity.
According to Peggy Lee, member of No One Is Illegal, “Public officials and the media must refrain from stereotyping these migrants as illegals or criminals. They have survived a long and arduous journey in the hopes that the Canadian state will fully comply with its international refugee and human rights law obligations.” On September 17, 2009 the UN Human Rights Council publicly condemned the practice of unnecessary immigration-related detention and demanded that irregular migrants must be protected against arbitrary deprivation of liberty and inhuman treatment. The UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay warned that “The association of irregular migration with criminality promotes the stigmatization of migrants and encourages a climate of xenophobia and hostility against them.”
“Much like the treatment of the 599 Fujianese migrants, the migrants aboard Ocean Lady are being criminalized. They have been handcuffed and being held in Surrey Pre-Trial Centre and Fraser Regional Correctional Centre, which is deplorable and absolutely unacceptable,” states Harsha Walia, member of No One Is Illegal-Vancouver.
“This most recent example of irregular migration should come as no surprise to the Canadian government. Increasingly restrictive immigration and refugee policies debunk the myth of Canada as an open and accepting country. Migrants – such as the 76 men presumed to be Tamil – seeking safety and fleeing wars are forced to resort to more and more dangerous routes,” according to Alex Mah, member of No One Is Illegal. During the journey from the Fujiyan province in 1999, at least two people died.
Over the past decade alone, deportations from Canada have increased by over 50%. Most recently, Immigration Minister Kenney has made a number of inaccurate and inflammatory comments. He has, for example, suggested that refugee claimants in Canada are “fake” and that “real refugees” are overseas. He has also imposed visa restrictions on Mexico and Czech Republic to close the door on refugees from those countries.
“Such comments and actions are fundamentally rooted in arbitrary racist distinctions. Kenney is appealing to conservative public fears and prejudices of migrants. The painful reality is that the global political and economic system is creating instability in the lives of millions worldwide, resulting in growing populations of migrants and asylum seekers ”, further states Mah.