ARCHIVED – Speaking notes for The Honourable Jason Kenney, P.C., M.P. Minister of Citizenship, Immigration and Multiculturalism

At a news conference in Sri Lanka, regarding Human smuggling
Colombo, Sri Lanka, January 7, 2013

As delivered

It’s a great pleasure to be here. I’m the first Canadian minister in Sri Lanka in, I gather, three years. Sri Lanka is a very important country for Canada. As you may know, we have the largest Sri Lankan diaspora in the world, with some 300,000 Canadians of Sri Lankan origin, who have made a huge contribution to Canada’s prosperity and the success of our model of unity and diversity. And so I am pleased to be here, to have some high level meetings to discuss important bilateral issues, some of which I will be presenting to you today.

First of all, let me make an announcement with respect to an aid project that we are funding. Canadians were troubled and saddened to hear of the recent devastating floods in this country. Our hearts go out to the victims of these terrible natural disasters, and so we’d like to reach out our hands to offer some assistance, as we have done for some forty years, through our international development program here in Sri Lanka.  

In that spirit, I’m happy to announce that the Government of Canada will be providing $18,700 Canadian dollars in humanitarian assistance for families affected by flooding in two of the severely hit districts of Sri Lanka, the Mannar and Anuradhapura districts.  The funds will be given to Caritas Sri Lanka, which is part of Caritas International, a confederation of world-wide Roman Catholic relief, development, and social service organizations. And, indeed, I met with the director of Caritas Sri Lanka last night.  

Caritas will use the funds to provide immediate assistance in the form of blankets, bed sheets, towels, soap and drinking water to residents of Mannar and Anuradhapura districts who lost their belongings in the flood. And, I should say, I also met with a Member of Parliament for one of the flooded regions and he described to me how severe it is, and we really do express our regret. Canada is pleased to be able to support Sri Lanka’s disaster relief efforts, and we hope the relief items will help families as they try to rebuild their lives.

So now I’d like to turn to the principle reason for my visit, and that is to discuss the scourge of human smuggling, which is resulting in the exploitation of thousands of Sri Lankan migrants hoping for the opportunity of migrating to Canada. And let me be very clear: we are here to issue a warning that human smugglers will take your money, but they won’t get you to Canada.

We all know that human smuggling is very dangerous. Every year, thousands of people die in smuggling operations all around the world. In fact, let’s be clear about one thing. Smugglers lie about getting people to Canada. In 2009-2010, two ships carrying Sri Lankan migrants reached Canada. Many of the passengers were kept in immigration detention for months and some are still being detained. Some, I should say, were deemed to be inadmissible to Canada and ineligible to seek asylum for national security grounds because of their involvement in organizations like the LTTE.

Several have been barred on national security grounds and many passengers who arrived in fact have not obtained asylum in Canada. Some have already been returned to Sri Lanka. Let me be clear: the smugglers targeting Canada have been stopped since the arrival of that vessel in August of 2010. Several planned large-scale human smuggling missions destined for Canada have been stopped. Thousands of Sri Lankans have made large down payments to smugglers to be taken to Canada, but they have been arrested, detained, returned or left stranded in transit countries.

One example was broadcast by the Canadian Broadcast Corporation, which interviewed several migrants of Sri Lankan origin who were in Chennai and who had paid down payments of several thousand dollars to Sri Lankan smuggling syndicates to be brought to Canada, but who were left in Tamil Nadu without any follow up. In fact, they were stranded, having lost their life savings.

That gives you one example on smugglers of people who have given money to smuggling syndicates, in this case Tamil Nadu, to come to Canada. Their money was taken, but the smuggling syndicate disappeared. This is happening over and over again. Now we are clamping down. Canada is investing $12 million to help transit countries combat human smuggling.  Transit countries including Thailand, Indonesia, Malaysia, Ghana, Togo and Benin are helping make these efforts effective.

I’m going to give you a few examples, but first here is Prime Minister Stephen Harper at a press conference in Thailand last fall where he’s discussing our investment into interrupting human smuggling operations bound for Canada.  

That describes the priority we place on this. Sri Lankan smugglers have been arrested around the world. Criminals running Sri Lankan smuggling syndicates have been arrested in Canada, France, West Africa and Southeast Asia.  I’ll give you some specific examples. Between October 2010 and January 2011, Thai authorities arrested more than 200 Sri Lankan migrants for immigration violations in four operations and we believe that these individuals paid a significant amount of money to these agents and were waiting to be smuggled to Canada.

In July of 2011, Indonesia stopped a smuggling ship likely headed for Canada.  The Indonesia navy intercepted the Alicia, a smuggling ship carrying 84 Sri Lankan migrants. They said the vessel was destined for Canada and the migrants again had paid down payments of several hundred thousand Sri Lankan rupees to the smuggling agents.

In October of 2011, Togolese authorities detained 209 Sri Lankan migrants believed to have made initial payments of between 1.2 and 1.5 million rupees to be smuggled to Canada. Migrants have flown from Sri Lanka to India, to Ethiopia, to West Africa.  Rather than boarding a ship for Canada they were abandoned by the smugglers.  Of the 209 that were detained, almost all have volunteered to return to Sri Lanka with the assistance of the International Organization for Migrants.

In May of 2012, a Sri Lankan smuggling syndicate returning from a voyage to Canada from West Africa was broken up by coordinated law enforcement efforts.  Six smugglers fled to Burkina Faso but were arrested there. Twelve smugglers were arrested by Ghanaian authorities and a 20,000 ton, 30-metre long vessel belonging to the smuggling syndicate was seized.

In June of 2012, 148 Sri Lankan migrants were arrested in Benin after having paid a smuggling syndicate to be brought to Canada. Media reports indicate that a smuggling syndicate brought the migrants to Benin before demanding more money and threatening to harm them. All 148 eventually returned to Sri Lanka and were deported. 
These operations in West Africa happened when syndicates recruited people from Ethiopia to West Africa, left them stranded never to get aboard a ship, never to go to Canada. These people, in some cases, ended up stranded in immigration detention. In one case, in a soccer field in Togo for 4 to 5 months. I believe some people are still stranded there.

In August of 2012, media reports indicate that a group of more than 100 Sri Lankan migrants were arrested again in Thailand for immigration violations. The migrants are believed to have made payments to the agents with the expectation of coming to Canada. At least one other group has been arrested in Thailand in the recent past.  The message is clear: the smuggling rings are fraudsters and thieves. These cases likely reflect only a small percentage of the Sri Lankan migrants who have paid smugglers to come to Canada.

We estimate that, over the past four years, thousands of Sri Lankan migrants have made initial payments of, as I was mentioning before, up to 1.5 million Sri Lankan rupees to smuggling syndicates, most of that down payments, only to lose their money and face misery, threats, detention and deportation. Transit countries have successfully stopped several planned voyages to Canada and will continue to do so.

Here is the point I would like to emphasize: there is growing evidence that some agents claiming to represent smuggling syndicates, taking people to Canada, neither have the intention and certainly do not have the capacity to bring people to Canada. That is to say, they are simply taking the money with a fraudulent guarantee of migration to Canada with no intention of actually bringing people there.

I want to also underscore that Canada has changed its laws to clamp down on human smuggling. Last June, our Parliament adopted the Protecting Canada’s Immigration System Act, which includes tough new prison sentences of up to ten years for those found guilty of organizing large scale smuggling operations and it imposes fines of up to a million dollars for the people who own the ships used in such criminal enterprises.

The same law also revokes the privilege that previously existed for people who arrive as refugees in smuggling operations. Migrants who arrive in Canada in a designated smuggling operation now face mandatory detention of six months or longer. They no longer get free healthcare. They no longer get work permits. They no longer get federal social benefits and smuggling arrivers who do get a positive asylum decision are not eligible for permanent residency in Canada for at least five years.

That means they have no privilege to sponsor family members for at least five years. If we determine that the conditions have improved, in this case in Sri Lanka, during those five years, they may then be subject to deportation back to Sri Lanka.  There is no guarantee that, even if they needed the protection initially, they will be able to stay in Canada permanently.

Canada is also ending the abuse of asylum system. Under our previous system that we just ended on December 15th last year, it would take almost three years for an asylum claimant’s initial hearing. If they were rejected at that point, they could often stay for several more years, appealing their asylum claim all the while receiving generous social benefits before being potentially deported after several years. The new system will ensure that smuggled migrants making asylum claims get an initial hearing in 60 days, rather than in two years, and if their claim is rejected they will face potential immediate deportation.

We’re talking about deportation for false asylum claimants coming in smuggling operations after two months, rather than five or six years. During those two months, they will not have access to benefits. If after their initial hearing they are deemed to be bona fide refugees, as I said before, they will not get permanent residency for at least five years. 

I want to underscore that Canada remains open to legal visitors and immigrants. Canada has taken these tough measures in order to protect our very generous system of immigration and refugee protection. We welcome, in fact, one out of every ten resettled refugee claimants worldwide. We maintain the highest per capita levels of immigration in the developed world. We welcome some 4,000 Sri Lankans as permanent resident immigrants every year and have welcomed 25,000 over the past six years. 

We welcome thousands of Sri Lankans as visitors, students and/or workers. Those who want to apply to visit Canada should simply apply through the normal legal procedures.  Those seeking refugee protection should receive regional solutions through the UNHCR, through the United Nations High Commission on Refugees. I should also say that Canada’s immigration system is becoming faster and more flexible for those who feel frustrated by it in the past.

There are now new and more flexible avenues to gain permanent residency in Canada. For example, foreign students and temporary foreign workers and skilled tradesmen who work with their hands now have opportunities to get permanent residency quickly.  Immigration programs are moving from wait times of several years to one year or less.  We’re welcoming a growing number of visitors, students and workers from Sri Lanka and around the world.

The conclusion is clear: Canada is stopping the smugglers. Thousands of Sri Lankans have been defrauded by the smugglers promising trips to our country that never happened and Canada’s laws have changed, eliminating privileges and benefits for smuggled arrivals. 

Before I take your questions, I’d like to address one other issue. We believe that there is a mixture of motivations for Sri Lankans seeking to be smuggled to Canada illegally. One of them is probably economic opportunity, but we are also very concerned to see that, in this post-war environment, there appears to be a growing pressure for emigration from Sri Lanka, whether it’s to Australia, to Canada or elsewhere. 

This indicates to us that there are, what we would call, push factors in this country.  That is one of the reasons why the why the Government of Canada  has expressed our profound concern about what we regard as ongoing human rights violations in this country, a lack of progress being made on reconciliation, a failure of accountability for crimes that were committed at the end of the war and that is why Prime Minister Harper has indicated that he will not attend the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting here in Sri Lanka this November, unless there has been significant progress on the protection of human rights, on accountability for crimes committed and on political reconciliation.

This is the message that I conveyed to my counterparts here in Sri Lanka. Canada regards itself as a friend of Sri Lanka. The government of Prime Minister Harper will indeed help to hasten the end of the war by banning the Tamil Tigers as an illegal terrorist entity and the world Tamil movement, by cracking down on their fundraising and political operations in Canada. We are opposed to all forms of terrorism and extremists, but we are also champions of human rights and human dignity.  We call on all countries, particularly members of the Commonwealth, to respect those universal values. 

I’m happy to take any questions that you have.


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