Over the weekend, the Sun newspaper chain reported the findings of a “secret government report” suggesting that nearly three-quarters of Sri Lankan Tamils previously granted refugee status in Canada have returned to their homeland for visits or vacations, casting doubt on their claims that they faced persecution, or even death, in their homeland.
The “secret report” turns out to be a collection of 50 refugee-applicant case studies, plucked at random from government files. That is a small sample size, and it’s not clear that even these 50 individuals are entirely representative of the larger Canadian-resident Tamil community. Still, the results are worrying: Of the 50 refugee applicants, 31 had been granted asylum. Of those, 22 had made trips back to Sri Lanka. If applicants feel safe enough to return to Sri Lanka, they are putting the lie to their pleas for sanctuary here.
For many years, Canada has been regarded as a soft touch by Tamil migrants — which is the main reason that the Tamil Tiger terrorist group is seeking to use Canada as its base of operations as it regroups in the wake of its 2009 routing by the Sri Lankan army. The overcrowded boat full of Tamil migrants that arrived in British Columbia this month likely will not be the last of its kind.
Martin Collacott, a former Canadian high commissioner to Sri Lanka, wrote in the Post last fall that between 1989 and 2004, Canada granted refugee status to more than 37,000 Tamils, “far more than to the nationals of any other country,” and 50% more than were granted refugee status by all the other countries in the world. Mr. Collacott also pointed out that at the height of the influx of Tamils in the early 2000s, “in one year alone, 8,600 Sri Lankans with refugee claims pending in Canada applied to the Sri Lankan High Commission in Ottawa for travel documents so they could go back to Sri Lanka for visits.”
As recently as 2008, Canada turned down fewer than 3% of Tamil refugee claims, while the average for rejection in other countries was 50%. Yet at an Immigration and Refugee Board hearing in 2006, it was pointed out that of 100 Tamil claimants refused refugee status and forced to return to Sri Lanka, none had suffered abuse by Sri Lankan officials or military.
As we have argued in this space many times before, Canada’s refugee system needs a major overhaul. To most Canadians, the word “refugee” means someone fleeing to Canada from genuine persecution. Yet our system is gummed up by economic and family-reunification migrants who are simply trying to leapfrog the ordinary immigration system. This is a disservice both to legitimate refugees, and to honest immigrants who abjure invented tales of woe.
Until recently, discussion of this subject was taboo — especially under the governments of Jean Chrétien and Paul Martin, which shamelessly marketed themselves as champions of a few-questions-asked immigration policy. A decade ago, for instance, when opposition politicians criticized Mr. Martin for attending a fundraiser for a group that U.S. intelligence services had linked to the Tamil Tigers, Liberal critics suggested the critics were motivated by racism.
But in recent years, Canadians have brushed aside multicultural pieties, and have welcomed an increasingly frank discussion about immigration and refugee policies.
This trend came into focus in 2006, during Israel’s conflict with Hezbollah in southern Lebanon: It turned out that many of the Lebanese-resident Canadian citizens who were clamouring to be saved by the Canadian government hadn’t actually lived in Canada for years — if they ever had. Canadians were outraged to see that these people were using their Canadian citizenship as nothing more than an insurance policy against disaster overseas.
In the years since, Canadian doubts about our immigration and refugee system have only increased. This month, the catalyst for such doubts originated in Sri Lanka. But we also have seen scandals involving dubious refugees from Mexico, the European Union and even the United States — especially in the form of U.S. soldiers shirking their military obligations.
The Harper government already has taken some steps toward reform — including Jason Kenney’s new immigration study guide, which lays out more clearly than previous editions an immigrant’s or refugee’s obligations to Canada, not just his or her benefits. But more must be done: In particular, the refugee-determination system must be tightened up so as to exclude bogus applicants; and those who are rejected should be removed from our shores within months, not years.
Whether as refugees or immigrants, new Canadians who do not genuinely wish to embrace this country as their own, or who seek to short-circuit our immigration procedures, must not be allowed to exploit our goodwill.