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Tamil refugees face deportation from Canada

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No refuge
June 18th, 2009
Stefan Christoff - thehour.ca

Montreal Tamil refugees face deportation back to Sri Lanka

After months of intense warfare in northern Sri Lanka, thousands of Tamil civilians are dead and tens of thousands more displaced - many to Sri Lankan military-controlled displacement camps.
Now Tamil refugees in Montreal fear they will be deported back to Sri Lanka, and an uncertain future.

Although the federal government expressed "dismay and displeasure" over the Sri Lankan government's refusal last week to allow Liberal foreign affairs critic Bob Rae to enter Sri Lanka, they continue to deport Tamil refugees in Canada.

"Today the situation in Sri Lanka for Tamils is very bad. Canada is going to send me back to war and a government in Colombo that doesn't respect my rights as a Tamil," says Ratnam Thurai, a Tamil refugee who faces deportation.

In Montreal, the Tamil Action Committee is working with numerous Tamil refugees fighting deportation orders. They estimate 200 Tamil refugees currently face deportation from Canada to Sri Lanka.

"Canada is deporting Tamils to a war zone," says Jared Will, an immigration lawyer working on Tamil refugee cases in Montreal. "It is particularly appalling because the government has clearly recognized the situation in Sri Lanka, through setting up a special application process for refugee applicants in Sri Lanka, while still carrying out deportations. The hypocrisy is so clear."

Tens of thousands of Canadian Tamils staged multiple outspoken protests over the past few months against the Sri Lankan military offensive, including a dramatic sit-in

at the Parliament buildings in Ottawa which lasted weeks. Thousands of protesters in Toronto blockaded the Gardiner Expressway in Toronto.

"Because we are Tamils coming from Canada, the government in Sri Lanka will be even more aggressive towards us if we are deported, because there were so many protests in Canada against the war on the Tamil people in Sri Lanka. The government views Canada as sympathetic to the Tamil Tigers."

Local activists and lawyers in Montreal hope to halt Ratnam Thurai's deportation, which is set to take place once his Sri Lankan travel documents are issued. Meanwhile, a larger community campaign against all Tamil deportations is also gathering force.

Both the Tamil Action Committee and immigration lawyers involved in the case have called for a moratorium on deportations to Sri Lanka, similar to existing moratoriums for countries in conflict, including Iraq and Congo.

"All Tamils in Sri Lanka today face the same problems," continues Ratnam Thurai. "Just being Tamil we face discrimination from the Sri Lankan government and our language and culture is not respected in the country."

Concerns are warranted according to the UN. Shortly after the war subsided, UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon visited Sri Lanka and spoke of the humanitarian disaster facing Tamil civilians and the "unacceptably high" case of civilian casualties in the Tamil populated areas of northern Sri Lanka, perpetrated by both sides of the conflict. Refugee centres and hospitals trapped in the war zone endured Sri Lankan military aerial bombardments and, to date, the government in Colombo has made it impossible for the Red Cross and other humanitarian organizations and media to access the zone.

Tamil activists in Montreal say the Sri Lankan government's refusal to allow human rights monitors and Canadian government officials to enter the country makes them fear for their Tamil family and friends in Sri Lanka, as well as those currently facing deportation from Canada.

"The international community has to give assurance that Tamils can live peacefully and live in freedom in Sri Lanka," insists Kamala Jegatheeswaran, a spokesperson for the Tamil Action Committee. "Until our rights as Tamils in Sri Lanka are guaranteed then there should be a moratorium on deportations to Sri Lanka - absolutely no deportations, they must stop."

For more information on the Immigrant Workers' Centre, visit www.iwc-cti.ca.