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Harper repeats past immigration blunders, targets migrants

21 October 2010

Media Contacts
Syed Hussan,, 416.465.5684
Macdonald Scott,, 647.710.5046

Harper repeats past immigration blunders, targets migrants

Toronto -- Immigrant and refugee rights organization, No One Is Illegal-Toronto, insists that the ‘Preventing Human Smugglers from Abusing Canada’s Immigration System Act’ will further limit people's ability to migrate to Canada and should be immediately scrapped.

"With Canada slamming the door on refugee claimants applying from overseas, the only real way for people to come to Canada as refugees is to apply for status from within the country", explains Macdonald Scott, an immigration consultant and a member of the Immigration Legal Committee. "Applying for refugee status in Canada is enshrined in both Canadian and International law. By saying that it’s illegal, and an abuse of the system, Harper is trying to play us all for fools."

In 2008/09 the United Nations set a goal of 560,000 resettled refugees - of these, Canada accepted about 11,000, most of whom were applications from inside the country. At the same time, the United Nations High Commission for Refugees announced that Syria, Lebanon and Jordan accepted 885,000 Iraqi refugees between them. These numbers give lie to Prime Minister Stephen Harper's assertions on October 19th, 2010 that Canada has "the most generous system of sanctuary for refugees in the world."

The United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, Navi Pillay, has warned against the use of terms like 'human smuggling' for migration, stating that “the association of irregular migration with criminality promotes the stigmatization of migrants and encourages a climate of xenophobia and hostility against them.”

"Canada has twice before targeted people arriving on ships, turned them back to death and torture, and then apologized for it - why are these past immigration blunders being repeated?" asks Syed Hussan, an organizer with No One Is Illegal - Toronto. “Harper is now using the same logic that sent hundreds of Jewish refugees to their death in Germany in 1938.”

In 1914, Canada turned back the mass arrival of 354 passengers aboard the SS Komagata Maru, some of whom were killed upon their return. In 1938, Canada turned back the mass arrival of 937 Jewish refugees abroad the S.S. St Louis, most of whom perished in the holocaust. In 1995, Prime Minister Jean Chrétien agreed that Canada "turned its back" on those abroad the SS St Louis. On August 3, 2008, PM Stephen Harper apologized for turning back the Komagata Maru.

"The United Nations High Commission on Refugees, Amnesty International, the World Organization Against Torture, Human Rights Watch and Oxfam have all criticized and condemned Australian immigration policies, particularly its response to migrants arriving by boat", adds Scott. "Of all the places in the world, why is Canada turning to Australia for solutions?", he asks.

Minister Jason Kenney recently travelled to Australia to learn about their immigration system. As far back as January 2002, 60 migrants detained upon arrival in Australia physically sewed their mouths shut in protest against their treatment. The World Organization Against Torture has called Australian immigration policies "discriminatory, repressive, unworkable and in contradiction with international standards and law". Recently Amnesty International and others filed a report with the United Nations Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination which demanded that Australia change its policies to "ensure that its immigration policies do not have the effect of discriminating against person on the basis of race, colour, descent, or national or ethnic origin".

"Smearing refugee claimants and migrants as ‘smugglers’, targeting people arriving on ships, and taking cues from the worst immigration policies in the world are a willful repetition of past wrongs that have been consistently condemned and criticized", Hussan adds. "It is essential that this Act be thrown in the dustbin of history lest it comes back to haunt Canada and another apology has to be issued in the future.”

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