76 Survivors of Sri Lanka’s anti-Tamil ethnic cleansing are now shackled and jailed in Canada
BASICS #16 (Nov/Dec 2009)
by Kabir Joshi-Vijayan
Since January 2009, the Sri Lankan state has launched a full-out holocaust on its minority Tamil population. This began with a 5 month indiscriminate shelling and bombing campaign of the north coast (home to a majority of the Tamils) and included the deliberate targeting of safe zones, hospitals and schools. The bloody outcome was the death of over 20,000 Tamil civilians and the decimation of the Tamil Tiger national liberation movement. Civilians that survived the government onslaught were forced into detention, and some 300,000 internally displaced persons (IDPs) remain imprisoned in state-run concentration camps. Along with severely limiting accessibility to water, food and other essential supplies, news leaving the camps report of systematic rape, torture, murder, beatings, forced abortions and even child trafficking by the Sri Lankan Army – with death rates in the camps estimated at 1,400 per week.
So on October 16, when Canadian Authorities intercepted 76 exhausted and desperate Tamil men on a rusty freighter off the B.C. coast, there should have been little doubt as to why they fled to Canada. Rather than treating the refugees (who are suspected of having paid smugglers for their escape from the concentration camps in Sri Lanka to B.C.) as victims of genocide and survivors of one of the most violent and chauvinistic regimes in the world, Canadian Border Services tossed all the 76 men back into detention. All the migrants continue to languish in prison, and while some have had preliminary dates of review set with the Immigration and Refugee Board, others without identification have been told they will remain in custody without any hearing for at least another month.
Community support groups, including No One Is Illegal Vancouver and the Canadian Tamil Congress have demanded a release of the refugees and a respect of their right to due process and protection from inhuman treatment. However, the Canadian government has responded by casting the asylum-seekers as criminals in the media, and saying that they must be screened for “connections to terrorism” (Tamil Tigers). Yet who will the Canadian government ultimately collaborate with to investigate the refugees? Sri Lanka, a state that has murdered some 370,000 Tamil civilians (and continues to murder) in operations since its independence. And even if some of the men have participated in the Tamil Liberation movement, is it a crime to resist a genocidal regime?
Canada is a signatory to the international convention for the protection of refugees, and therefore must meet its moral and legal obligation to protect the 76 Tamil men who, if deported, will be thrown back into concentration camps, face torture and perhaps be executed.