Monday, August 16, 2010

Myths and Realities about 490 Tamil Refugees on MV Sun Sea

Myths and Realities about 490 Tamil Refugees on MV Sun Sea

Download and distribute this widely as a printable factsheet in PDF:

==> Myth 1: They are illegals who are jumping the queue.

There is no 'queue' for refugee claimants. Refugees are forced from their
homes in emergency situations due to human rights abuses committed during
wars, military occupations, or persecution against a minority group. We
cannot expect refugees to wait for Canada to select them from overseas. We
must understand that they undertake long and dangerous journeys to protect
their lives and the lives of their families. According to the 1951 UN
Convention on Refugees, to which Canada is a party, there are no penalties
on refugees who arrive without pre-authorization and irregularly.

==> Myth 2: They are terrorists.

There is no evidence to substantiate this. Rohan Gunaratna, the
government's primary source, has already been discredited by lawyers as
well as an Immigration and Refugee Board adjudicator for being uncredible.
Last October, when the 76 Tamil asylum-seekers came on Ocean Lady they
were similarly labeled as terrorists and security threats. However by Jan
2010, they were all released from detention when Canadian Border Services
Agency admitted they had no evidence of a terrorist connection.

Furthermore, officials are just relying on stereotypes of Tamils as all
being associated with the Tamil Tigers to create unnecessary racist
hysteria and mistrust of asylum-seekers. National security laws in the
post-911 climate have directly targeted and marginalized immigrants,
refugees, and racialized people. These laws and policies are less about
protecting society than creating a culture of fear. Many of these policies
- such as Security Certificates - have been struck down in the Courts
after years of human rights and anti racist campaigning. The rhetoric of
the War on Terror serves as a convenient distraction from the reality that
people's daily lives are increasingly unsafe and insecure due to global
neoliberal economics and war-mongering that leads to mass displacement,
poverty, and human rights atrocities.

==> Myth 3: The situation is getting better in Sri Lanka.

According to a 2010 Amnesty International report, in the past 12 months
the Sri Lankan government has continued to jail critics and clamped down
on dissent. Some 80,000 Tamils remain in refugee camps, while 400,000
displaced Tamils survive in communities where homes and infrastructure
were destroyed. The government continues to extend a state of emergency,
restricting many basic human rights, and thousands of arbitrary detentions
are justified under the guise of detainees being suspected Tamil Tigers.
This past month, UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon appointed a panel to
investigate war crimes and genocidal acts committed by the Sri Lankan
government against Tamils.

==> Myth 4: They are a burden on tax payers.

The biggest resource expenditure has been the government's choice to spend
thousands of dollars in an unnecessary security operation, including
resources spent on incarcerating women and children. Only a tiny fraction
has been spent on the health and well-being of the migrants, whose lives
are worth more than dollars. Furthermore, scapegoating migrants for being
a financial burden lets the government off the hook. All residents
continue to receive inadequate access to necessary social services because
of misplaced government priorities - choosing to bail out banks and sink
billions into the police and military - not because of the lack of
resources to provide a social safety net for all in need.

==> Myth 5: Canada has a generous refugee system; we cannot keep accepting

Despite border panics, only a small minority of asylum seekers make claims
in the Western world. There are about 20 million refugees worldwide and
most migrate into neighboring countries of Africa, Middle East, and South
Asia. Canada accepts fewer than 20,000 refugees per year, which is less
than 0.1% of the world's displaced population.

Furthermore, Canada's system is not generous. Deportations from Canada
have skyrocketed 50% over the last decade, with 13,000 deportations in the
past year. With the Conservatives, the number of approved asylum claims
has dropped by 56%. Minister of Immigration Jason Kenney's recent refugee
reforms create two tiers of refugees, establishing a hierarchy based on
nationality. There are countless structural flaws in the system, designed
to make it near impossible to claim asylum. Immigration and Refugee Board
members are political appointees; certain avenues such as the Pre Removal
Risk Assessment have acceptance rates of 3-5% while others such as the
Humanitarian and Compassionate claim do not have to be processed prior to
deportation. In addition, the refugee system has been termed a "lottery
system" because acceptance rates can vary from 0-80% depending on the
judge. The Safe Third Country Agreement between the US and Canada creates
a "Fortress Canada" by disallowing up to 40% of asylum seekers.

==> Myth 6: It is not our problem.

The Canadian government has recently been forced to apologize for racist
and exclusionary historical measures including the Chinese Exclusion Act
and Komagatamaru incident. These apologies and the rhetoric of
multiculturalism is hollow when current policies and practices perpetuate
racism and exclusion. The recent backlash that repeats the tired-old
refrain about 'illegals' and 'criminals' has meant that right-wing
neo-nazis such as Paul Fromm and the Aryan Guard have resurfaced publicly
and are being given a platform to spew their hate about sending the boat
back. Is this really the side that we are on?

Immigration and refugee issues are not simply about Canadian benevolence
or charity. We need to rethink what function and whose interests the state
border actually serves. The current trends of global migration reveal the
ways in which patters of Western domination and corporate globalization
have enriched some countries by creating economic and political insecurity
that forces people indigenous to their lands to migrate. The Canadian
government continues to maintain economic and diplomatic ties with the
government of Sri Lanka, instead of supporting those who have survived the
brutality of that government, which makes us complicit in their
displacement. Also, we must always remember that Canada is a settler
country, built on the theft of Indigenous lands and the forced
assimilation of Indigenous communities. On what basis is a colonial
government denying colonized people their right to livelihood? Finally, we
must challenge the idea that some are more worthy than others to a life of
dignity; instead we should reaffirm the universal value that people have
the freedom to move in order to seek safety and to flourish.


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