Arrival of Tamil migrant ship sparked concern in U.S., cables say

Posted by admin on May 12th, 2011

By Douglas Quan, Postmedia News May 12, 2011

VANCOUVER — The arrival to Canada in 2009 of a boatload of Sri Lankan Tamils plus a “surge” of Tamils attempting to reach Australia in similar fashion was closely watched by the U.S. government, which noted that the cases represented their “increasing desperation and sophistication,” according to new diplomatic cables released by WikiLeaks. The cables — obtained by CBC News — were written in the days following the arrival on Oct. 17, 2009, of the MV Ocean Lady, carrying 76 Tamil men.

According to one diplomatic cable, the screening of so many undocumented migrants put such a strain on the federal government that RCMP and Canadian Border Services Agency officers had to be pulled off their Olympic security-related duties.

The same cable stated that the Canadian government was proceeding with “extreme caution” in processing the detainees, noting that the government had come under heavy criticism a decade earlier for its handling of three shiploads of Chinese migrants.

Many spent years in detention. Several hundred were released and then disappeared, presumably to the U.S., and most of the remainder were sent back to China, the cable said. Only a few were accepted as refugees.

“The government of Canada is determined this time to demonstrate transparent, fair, and efficient processing,” U.S. officials wrote. “The balanced approach is strained, however, by the conflict between the suspected role of the Tamil Tigers — and the loud voice of the 250,000-strong Tamil community in Canada.”

Another cable mentioned that an unnamed Canadian official had expressed concerns about “the rapid politicization of these cases, particularly the influence that this may have on Canada’s Immigration and Refugee Board which is composed of appointees who have often been accused of pursuing individual agendas rather than upholding common standards for approving claims.”

The same cable noted that it would be difficult for receiving countries to differentiate between genuine victims and those who remain loyal supporters of the Tamil Tigers, which is considered a terrorist group in Canada.

In the end, all 76 men from the Ocean Lady were ordered released and allowed to proceed with their refugee claims.

American officials predicted that each asylum claim successfully granted “only increases the pull of motivation for others to attempt their own passage.”

Indeed, less than a year after the Ocean Lady’s arrival came a second ship, the MV Sun Sea, carrying 492 Tamil men, women and children.

Since then, all but 19 of the Sun Sea’s migrants have been released.

The Immigration and Refugee Board, however, is in the midst of holding hearings for about 45 of the migrants who the Canada Border Services Agency says should be deported on grounds that they were members of the Tamil Tigers or were engaged in people smuggling or other serious crimes.

However, of seven decisions rendered so far, the Immigration and Refugee Board has sided with CBSA only twice.

In one decision released Thursday, the board said CBSA’s evidence that one of the migrants was a member of the Tigers’ infantry unit was trivial, speculative and not credible and allowed the migrant to proceed with his refugee claim.
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