Tamil Asylum Seekers Had Help

August 31st, 2010

Earlier this month a dilapidated vessel, the MV Sun Sea, was escorted to a British Columbia harbour by a flotilla of Canadian authorities. Soon after docking, there emerged from her hold a desperate collection of nearly 500 Tamil men, women and children, all at the ready to seek asylum in Canada. They had just spent a harrowing four months at sea, living literally cheek by jowl, with little more than a litre of water a week to drink. Their claims for asylum are based on a genuine fear of persecution if returned to their homeland, Sri Lanka, because as Tamils, they had come out on the losing side of a 26-year old bloody civil war that took the lives of 100,000 people.

The arrival of these wannabe-Canadians has touched a collective nerve in our nation’s populace. Some have suggested that we should have turned the boat back on the high seas, or that we should expel the Tamils without hearing their refugee claims. Fortunately, our government has not succumbed to these baser instincts.

So much has been written on the matter during the past few weeks that I hesitate to add my two cents. A good deal of the commentary up until now has been panicky in an Orson Welles’ “War of the Worlds” kind of way. However, there is a take on all of this that I have not seen expressed elsewhere and so I will address it here.

First though, some of the facts bear repeating.

– Our government, in its dealings with asylum seekers, has certain obligations under both international and domestic law. More specifically, in 1969 Canada signed the U.N. Refugee Convention and in so doing undertook not to return asylum seekers if they had a genuine fear of persecution. As well, the Supreme Court of Canada has afforded Charter Rights to asylum seekers and this guarantees that their claims be determined in a fair process.

– These Tamils are not attempting to enter Canada through some backdoor shenanigan. They are not jumping the immigration queue because there is no queue for asylum seekers, and they do not compete for visas with independent immigrants, such as skilled workers. The way our refugee determination system works is that anyone who makes their way to Canada, whether by boat, plane or otherwise, and demonstrates a genuine fear of persecution, is in. It makes no difference how many claimants come before or after. Each is determined on its own merits. In the past few years, Canada has considered approximately 30,000 refugee claims per year.

– In recent years, upwards of 83% of asylum requests made by Tamils inside of Canada have been accepted as genuine. The record also shows that far more refugee claims have recently been made by people arriving from Hungary by plane than by Tamils by boat, and of the Hungarian group, very few claimants are found to be genuine. Judging from the lack of coverage and commentary of this phenomenon, one has to assume that Canadians aren’t as alarmed by an influx of Eastern Europeans.

Now, here is the one question about this whole affair that has been bugging me from the outset and has not yet been addressed by the media—where in the world did the boat’s passengers come up with the reported $30,000 to $50,000 per head as the cost of the voyage? Surely, this princely sum far surpasses each passenger’s ability to pay. The trip’s organizers may be a lot of things but “good Samaritans” they are not. I doubt very much that an I.O.U. got anyone a space on board the ship. Then it occurred to me that their benefactors were most likely close family members already in Canada.

The journey of these Tamil asylum seekers brings to mind a very sad chapter in my own family’s history. My paternal grandfather, may he rest in peace, arrived in Canada from Eastern Europe in the early 1900’s. He worked hard and in the ensuing years managed to find a way to bring over his remaining siblings, except for his younger sister. In the 1930’s my grandfather saw the discomforting signs of what lay ahead for European Jews. He redoubled his efforts to get his kid sister out of harm’s way. Pleas were made to the Canadian government of the day, but they fell on deaf ears. Some of the commentary back then described Jewish refugee-seekers as frauds and economic opportunists. In the end, my grandfather failed in his mission and his sister became another Nazi victim.

I can assure readers that if there was a way for my grandfather to have paid the owners of a boat to provide safe passage to Canada for his sister, he would have done so in a heartbeat no matter how nefarious the profiteers may have been. Can you blame him? Can you now blame the Canadian relatives of the passengers on board the MV Sun Sea?

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22 Responses to “Tamil Asylum Seekers Had Help”

  • On August 31st, 2010, Anonymous said ...


    A wonderful and thought provoking analogy.

  • On August 31st, 2010, temporary foreign worker said ...

    sir can u just give emphasis to the new rules that the immigration will implement on april 1,2011. because i think it is important, there are how many foreign workers that will be send home, theres thousands of them. the government only think about the positive effects of this changes, there are lots of negative effects that they did not give considerations, examples are. it means the employer will train new people, news workers are needed to replace those workers who was sent home that means new expenses from the employer, . And i think this is not the solution to protect foreign workers they can do better than this. if they really want to help us think for a bettter solutions not like this, because what they did is just a escape on everything that they want, as a temporary foreign worker i challenge the government of canada to seek for better solution to help us, WE THE FOREIGN WORKERS whos helping the work force of canada. Without us canada there will be a shortage in man powers, i hope the government will accept that challenge of mine. I AM A FOREIGN WORKER…

  • On August 31st, 2010, Asad said ...

    The Above article was inspirational as well as emotional too , I live in PAkistan and i know how these asylum seekers gather that money which they pay these boatmans to take them out of their borders . no matter how much they pa , ut Canadian Gov is a smart Gov , they are offcourse good humans but they are also adding good value to their Economic and labour needs which offcourrse filled by skilled workers as well as by these immigrants .
    And one must understand that these refugess arrive with a great risk being put their lives in entire danger to travel is Seas and in jungles and what not , and in my openion they are innocent and also an asset to a gown economy .

  • On August 31st, 2010, Ingrid said ...

    Good point Mr Cohen! So many ‘Canadians’ forget the sacrifices of those who made it possible for them to be here and rarely stop to consider what it would have been like if those sacrifices were never made. As someone waiting for my SW application to be processed (in the queue since Feb 2008) coming to Canada is one thing, surviving in Canada then thriving are all different things. There are many hurdles for these people to over come but one day at a time. Peace!

  • On September 1st, 2010, Anonymous said ...

    I totally agree with you David. The claims of the Tamil Refugees are genuine, it’s not a secret at all, the world knows as to what happened to most of the Tamils who trapped in the battle field. I salute to the Government of Canada and its citizens for being open with possibilities of helping the people onboard MV Sun Sea. God Bless us all!

  • On September 1st, 2010, bavithra said ...

    sir,wishes from ms.bavithra,chennai,india.i am really thankful for your kindness that you are showing to our innocent tamilians .even the india is not being act kind like your country.thanks

  • On September 1st, 2010, Prakash Rajan said ...

    Dear David,

    It was a wonderful analysis of the current situation involving illegal immigration and genuine refugees. I would luv to see every immigration officer on duty would look into all these perspectives before granting visa or residential status to every person.

    Hope to hear more wonderful news and analysis on such topics in future.


  • On September 1st, 2010, Indian said ...

    Mr. Cohen,
    Your observations are indeed thought provoking…I agree with you that being a signatory to the U.N Refugee Convention Canada has an obligation to treat its asylum seekers with dignity and fairness..rehabilitating them in Canada is the next step..the exact implications of this action on teh govt’s economy and society ofcourse must be luked into..but humanitarian law requires that the helpless refugees must not be turned away by a powerful developed country lik Canada which can afford to help…May justice prevail….

  • On September 1st, 2010, Ebby said ...

    This story may be true. But wholesale acceptance of such refugees will open the floodgates of free and possible access to Canada which other immigrants will like take advantage of.Believe you me, from now on there is going to be that incessant haste for these would be immigrants to troupe to Canada because they they know they will compassionately be accepted. My permanent resident visa had to take seven years in processing which I am yet to be given. I could as well camouflage my identity as a refugee and frame a concocted story which will sound sweet in the ears of immigration officials. Why should others have to wait impatiently for seven years for a simple resident visa, whilst others get on a silver plata. Then Canada should as well open its air and sea ports for free entry till the country is full before closing for no entry. I will call it discrimination.

  • On September 1st, 2010, Anonymous said ...

    Thanks for the enlightment of the Tamils, my foreparents went on boats from India to British Guiana, sailing for months, it not easy, since they have given up everything that they had.They have to make a new start all over again in a new country.Give them the benefit,if you can save a life, then let the Gov.and the Citizens of Canada do it,we are not here to judge anyone-let them have their day too.

  • On September 1st, 2010, Viji said ...

    I totally agree with you David and thank you for writing such a wonderful article. I am a Tamil left the country in 1983 due to the ethnic violence in Colombo, Sri Lanka. My father was a big businessman, in one day we lost all our business, valuables, properties and narrowly escape from death. One of the Sinhalese rioters try to rape me too. I came to Canada as a refugee, now I am well established and one of the VIP in my community. I thank Canada everyday to give me a peace and safe place to live and get established. During the reason war many of my husband’s family members died and we tried to bring the rest of them who left in Vanni. We wrote many petitions and requests to Government of Canada to allow the war victims to migrate to Canada. But nothing happened. My affected relatives and friends tried to enter Canada legally and no doors were opened to them. The solution they had to come in the ship. Now the comments we get the Tamils are terrorists and they are not genuine refugees. I feel sad and disappointed the way the media accused the Tamils arrived in the boat. On behalf of my Tamil community I wish to state please treat our Tamil refugees well, hear their sad stories, show your compassion on them, be supportive, and help these refugees to settle down in Canada. We all Tamils give a big salute to the Government of Canada and kindly request save our Tamils lives and give an opportunity to hear their case. We thank all the Canadian Citizens giving their support and comfort in respect to this issue. Canada! save the Tamils! God Bless!

  • On September 1st, 2010, Pat said ...

    It is heart wrenching to read about the struggles that refugees undergo before they are accepted in a welcome manner in their host country. I thank God for a country like Canada that is compassionate and understands what being signatory to the UN’s convention on refugees truly means. However there are other countries especially in Europe that take this at face value. I personally would have done exactly the same as those Tamil people living in Canada – I would take any risk necessary for the survival and eventual safety of my family members. I speak from personal experience as a refugee from apartheid torn South Africa,who was given refuge in the UK after much grilling even though the atrocities of the then regime was blatant for the whole world to see – now living a blissful life in Canada.
    May Canada go from strength to strength.

  • On September 1st, 2010, Ngwi Acha Akem said ...

    I jsut want to thank you David for the wonderful job you doing for manking .God Bless you, folks and family.

  • On September 2nd, 2010, Shaidah said ...

    This article brought a lump to my throat and i am amazed at how we take a lot of things for granted.I live in a relatively peaceful country in Southern Africa(the Switzerland of Africa),Botswana.I have never known any discrimination or any persecution of any kind.It pains me that as human being we put each other through so much suffering and even if we dont carry out those acts ourselves,we are still guilty because either we stand by,act indifferent or just dont care.Those people who say the boat should be turned back with all the people in it,I say walk a mile in one Tamil before you say that.Let us be compassionate

  • On September 2nd, 2010, David said ...

    I think the biggest concerns Canadians and Australians (similiar issues) have is the ability to distinguish between a refugee and an economic migrant jumping the line. The fact that this ship departed from Thailand which is a safe country indicates that these people were indeed shopping for a country to live in. In the minds of most people, once a person leaves their country of persecution, they should apply for refugee status at the next safe port of call. This was not the case in this instance. No easy answer to this but Canada and Australia do indeed process genuine refugee claims from UNHRC camps from around the world. This boat looks and smells like what it is – a boat load of people who did make it safely out of their country but decided to shop around for an even better country. They avoided Australia as they knew they would be detained and not released onto the streets. It’s time for a honest look at what is really a refugee if only to protect the rights of real refugees that make it out.

  • On September 3rd, 2010, Regina_BC said ...

    It is the second time when they think they are “special”. It is the second time when they “just arrive” from the third country. Canada do not accept refugees from USA, why it has to accept them from Thailand where the ship came from? Does Canada should expect all refugees come like that? Why do other refugees come thru proper procedure (outside Canada) but these fellows do not what to follow it?

  • On September 4th, 2010, joe said ...

    I agree with you ,thank you and God bless you.

  • On September 11th, 2010, Anonymous said ...

    Sir,first tell me what do you know about the bloody war went on for 26 years in Sri lanka.Tell me the damage did by tamil tigers for the whole nation..If you know?Tamils always used the war as a weapon to claim refugee status all over the world.There leaders never wanted to come to a fair agreement with present and past governments.Coz they knew if the war gonna over,they cant claim refugee through the canadian embassy in sri lanka.So now they using this boat system.Keep this in mind..they are tricky than you guys..and 95% of them are tamil civilians who lived in the city with money and buisnesses used this option to come here,as they cant go through anymore by 99%tamil embassy staff with fake refugee stories in Sri lanka.(Staff also helpless,coz no war and no under the table cash)Sri Lanka is a small islannd with 65610 skm’s.There’s nothing to devide.I think canadian government has to get ready with their answers ,when this whole community ask for a Tamil Elaam ,from another 15-20 years.God Bless you sir..

  • On September 14th, 2010, Priya Pandya said ...

    Dear Mr. Cohen;
    God work always remains good work and all the time appreciated by everyone. I been to Pakistan , Srilanka and Bangladsh. I have had different impression before my visits to these countries. These people need support by UN, some are really in need of protection. One day in Pakistan while we were returning from Hotel to Airport, in front of our car, front car was gunned by four goons and all of travelling in this car shot dead. Sometimes can not sleep with remembering this scene. My friend Sameera who was deported 4 years before to Pakistan with parents and brother, she is in touch with me almost once in a week or two. Both brother and sister were Managers with Branded Franchises in Toronto, now…they are on merci of employers in Pakistan who suck their blood everyday. Sameera has been traded sometimes for bloody trade…a clear H&C case if they are in Canada. Suggest me how can she get your help. They were Refugee in Canada, their case got rejected due to their lawyer in Toronto. I can ask her to send all documents. Any way God bless you Cohen helping Assylum seekers.

  • On January 15th, 2011, Anonymous said ...

    I feel for the thousands of Canadians without proper dental care, as ALL tamil line jumpers received full dental treatments with their medicals.
    I support REALrefrugee claims not human trafficking and favourite country selection.

  • On February 15th, 2011, Arul said ...

    Dear Mr.David,
    Good work. Everyone in this world should support refugee claims because these refugees expect god kindness where ever their transport system leads them finally. If someone can help then, it will be great service which is equal to god’s help for them. May god bless and help those who help this poor.

  • On September 13th, 2011, Anonymous said ...

    That’s the problem. Refugees “EXPECT” ( your words) too much. The first thing that comes out of their mouths is “you have to take us because….”

    Please explain this.
    Tamils from Sri Lanka flooded into Canada tugging at our hert strings insisting they would be killed if they returned to Sri lanka. They were released into the country to await the decision whether their refugee status would be approved, at which time 77% returned to Sri Lanka for holidays, then came back still saying that they will be killed if they go home. Their status had not even been approved as refugees before they started heading back to vacation in the country they apparently were seeking refuge from.

    As for the boat people, they sailed from a safe country. They weren’t even living in Sri lanka.

    Nope, sorry, Canada has to really crack down on phoney refugees. They all had family in Canada. Let them legally sponsor them and support them.

    Canada is NOT obligated to accept everyone who shows up on our shores.

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