Toronto, Nov 5 (IANS) The Sri Lankan Tamil diaspora here has urged Canada and Australia, which are struggling to stop illegal refugees or so-called boat people from Sri Lanka, to quickly set up a refugee centre in South-East Asia to process cases of genuine people.
Thousands of Sri Lankan Tamils, who have fled to South-Est Asia during and after the civil war, are falling victims to human smugglers promising them to take to Canada and Australia.
Australia has already banned boat people from landing on its shores, and Canada has just introduced a bill to stop human smuggling into the country after about 500 Tamils reached Vancouver in August on a smuggling ship from Thailand.
With the issue of human smuggling into Canada hotting up with the arrest Wednesday of one of the 500 newly arrived Tamils for war crimes, the Canadian Tamil Congress Thursday asked Canada to take immediate steps to nip human smuggling at its source in South East Asia.
'Since most Tamil refugees trying to come to Canada and Australia are in south-east Asia (Thailand), Canada and Australia should quickly set up the proposed refugee centre in East Timor. This centre should educate people about the perils of human smuggling and entertain their applications to know who are the genuine people,' said Canadian Tamil Congress spokesman David Poopalapillai.
He said, 'Once this Canadian-Australian refugee centre in East Timor finds that cases are genuine, these people should be allowed to come to Canada and Australia through proper channels. Desperate Tamils then won't go to human smugglers.'
Asked whether the Tamil diaspora favoured such a centre in Chennai, he said, 'India is burdened with so many other problems. Secondly, most asylum seekers from Sri Lanka are reaching south-east Asia, not India.'
The Sri Lankan Tamil leader criticized Canada's new bill aimed at stopping human smuggling, saying, 'It is no solution to the human situation of desperate people.
'Tamil Canadians are willing to sponsor refugees from Sri Lanka, but they have to wait for five years to do so under the new law. This doesn't fit well with Canada's reputation for generosity,' he said.
Poopalapillai said the Canadian Tamil community condemns human smuggling in unequivocal terms and stands by Canada to stop this practice.
Canada is home to more than 300,000 Sri Lankan Tamils, with most of them concentrated in the Greater Toronto Area (GTA).
(Gurmukh Singh can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org)