‘Regular Tamils’ are returning to Sri Lanka: so, who is aboard the MV Sun Sea?

Sometimes, one has to wonder at the level of our ‘public debate’.

The latest example is the ship which had entered Canadian waters today, loaded with ‘Tamil political refugees’.

Some claim the boat is chock full of  ‘human smugglers’ and Tamil Tigers – a terrorist organization which is best known for (among other things):

The ‘public debate’ is dominated by the questions of how to separate the ‘legitimate refugees’ from the terrorists hiding among them, how to treat them, what process to apply to them, and so on.  This is all done among the warnings that  several more ships are ready to set out.  Whether they also head for Canada depending on how Canada treats this shipload….because Canada has a reputation as a naive pushover when it comes to aggressive immigrants.

The mainstream media is, rather predictably, not getting to the core of the issues – which pretty much ensures that the public remains ignorant of them, much less that they get discussed.

As it happens…

Until recently, my husband used to work with an excellent engineer who just happens to be a Tamil émigré.

Very intelligent, a competent and skilled engineer, with a six-figure salary.

Her husband also had an excellent job.

When their homeland on Sri Lanka was being torn apart by the ‘conflict’, they left, came to Canada and made a home here for themselves and their kids.

But, the conflict is over.

Done with.


No, things are not ‘perfect’.  Of course not.  25 years of bitter conflict, with hundreds of thousands of deaths on both sides, take a while to ‘work out’.

But, the time for fighting is over and the time for re-building has begun.  And, many ‘regular’ Tamils who had been driven from their homeland are returning and starting the process of rebuilding  everything, from the infrastructure and the economy to the social fabric of the country.

According to my hubby’s friend, ‘things’ are now ‘safe’ on Sri Lanka, even for ‘regular Tamils’.  Safe enough for these two intelligent and practical people to bring their kids back ‘home’.

Which makes me wonder:

If ‘regular Tamils’ and their families are returning home to Sri Lanka, who are the people claiming to be refugees?

If Sri Lanka is now safe for ‘regular Tamils’,  why is it not safe for the people on the MV Sun Sea?

If law-abiding citizens – Tamils or not – feel that Sri Lanka is safe for them, exactly whom is it NOT ‘safe’ for?

Could it, perhaps, be the people who were part of the Tamil Tiger terrorist network?

This would be in agreement with the warnings we have received that the boat is loaded with Tamil Tiger terrorists…  Except that, instead of genuine ‘refugees infiltrated by some terrorists’ – as the boat’s passengers are being presented to us by the mainstream media, the whole boat is, perhaps, filled with people who are ‘refugees’ because they (and their kids) are escaping justice for their terrorist activities?

I don’t know.  But, if Sri Lanka is now so safe, pragmatic Tamils (and engineers do tend to be pragmatic) are returning there from Canada because the situation there is now ‘safe for regular Tamils’, I don’t know what other conclusion to reach.  At least, not logically….

Which brings me to my second point.

I am an immigrant to Canada.  Before I came here, I was a refugee – a genuine refugee – and was granted a political asylum in Austria.  So, I do know a little bit about the international laws that govern that whole pesky ‘refugee’ thingy… both in theory and from practical experience.

The thing is – international law has very specific laws governing refugees.

There are several kinds of refugees:  coming from a country which is now peaceful (no civil war or conflict), which has not experienced any natural disasters lately, one where the economy has not collapsed, the only kind of refugees the international laws recognize are ‘political refugees’.

There are specific protections for political refugees under international law – for obvious reasons.  However, there are also some very strict rules political refugees have to obey in order to earn those legal protections and enjoy the status of ‘political refugee’.

The  number one rule – the one every country (other than Canada, to the best of my knowledge) – for ‘political refugees’ is that they MUST request political asylum in the nearest country where it is safe for them to do so.

The reasons for this are simple, yet important:  countries in the region are better aware of the details of the internal political situation of the country the potential refugees are coming from.  So, the understanding of the nuances of the local picture is much more likely – both because the closest ‘safe’ country’s government is likely keep abreast of the latest political developments in their area of the world and because it is bound to have ‘good assets’ on the ground to verify specific claims.

Plus, if there is a specific area of the world which is, over an extended period of time, seeing more political refugees than other parts, either UN-run or UN-supervised refugee camps can be set up there.  I went through one of these:  they are not necessarily more ‘comfortable’, but they certainly are much more efficient.  They have channels set up to verify people’s identities, check their international criminal records, assess the veracity of their claims as well as the potential danger they are in.

Yes, the advent of the internet has made much of the checking easier, without the need for centralized facilities.  But, some of the other ‘stuff’  is still best verified as locally as possible.

Which brings me back to the MV Sun Sea:  Canada is not exactly the NEAREST safe country for Tamil refugees to seek shelter in!

Sri Lanka – formerly known as Ceylon – happens to be right next to the subcontinent of India.  The same India which has been a strong supporter of the Tamils, sometimes even accused of being too supportive of them.

This ship has had to pass right by the – perhaps – safest, most supportive of the Tamil cause.  Then it has had to pass by a whole slew of countries, navigate directly away from the democratic countries of Australia and New Zeland.  Then it has had to traverse across the largest body of water on Earth, the Pacific Ocean,  intentionally avoiding the US islands there….

…before making it to Canada!

That means that the boat (and the refugee-status seekers on it) have intentionally breeched international laws and bypassed many safe havens – just to get here.

This act, in itself, makes each and every passenger on the MV Sun Sea NOT ELIGIBLE to receive the status of ‘political refugee’, according to international laws.  (Yes, I am not a lawyer – but, that is my best understanding of the laws.)

To sum things up:  ‘regular Tamils’ are returning from countries like Canada to Sri Lanka, because the conflict is over and it is safe for those Tamils who were not terrorists to return ‘back home’ and begin rebuilding the society.  And, the political asylum seekers on the MV Sun Sea have disqualified themselves from being eligible for that status under international law by not seeking asylum in the closest available safe haven to Sri Lanka.

Until these facts are highlighted and Canadians in general are made aware of them, we cannot even engage in any kind of a  reasonable, informed debate as to the appropriateness of actions our government ought to take with respect to these asylum seekers….