Ottawa To Speed Up Tamil Family Immigration

Ottawa to speed up Tamil family immigration
Assertion intellectually dishonest, Liberal MP retorts

From Wednesday's Globe and Mail
April 29, 2009 at 4:17 AM EDT

OTTAWA The federal government is speeding up the immigration applications of those in war-torn Sri Lanka who want to join their relatives in Canada, Immigration Minister Jason Kenney says.

The move would not pluck displaced people from Sri Lanka and resettle them quickly in Canada, but it would shorten the waiting times for parents and grandparents of Tamil-Canadians – who can wait years to be approved – to come to Canada.

Cutting the wait might ease some of the anxiety of those in the Tamil-Canadian community, estimated at 250,000 to 300,000, who want their relatives to join them.

The war between the Sri Lankan government and the separatist Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam has killed more than 6,500 civilians and displaced 160,000, according to United Nations estimates.

“We continue to process applications for family sponsorship from Canadian citizens for family members to come here. We have taken steps through our Colombo mission to expedite these applications,” Mr. Kenney said in the House of Commons yesterday.

He promised to fast-track the applications in response to a question from Liberal MP Bob Rae. Liberal Leader Michael Ignatieff also called earlier yesterday for fast-tracking of visa applications from Sri Lanka.

But Scarborough-Agincourt Liberal MP Jim Karygiannis, whose riding includes a large Tamil-Canadian community, said Mr. Kenney's assertion that visa processing is being expedited is “intellectually dishonest” because the government has not really devoted the resources to process them faster.

Despite the move to speed up the processing, applications to immigrate under the “family” class will still take several months; but officials said that category, usually a low priority, will now be a high priority at Canada's visa office in Colombo.

It will also mean that fewer risky trips from the north to Colombo will be required for interviews and checks, they said.

Officials said they did not have a figure for how many Sri Lankans are currently waiting to immigrate to Canada under the family class.

About 1,200 Sri Lankans have been approved under that category since last September, they said, with an average waiting time of 13 months.

In addition, 1,608 Sri Lankans arrived in Canada in 2008 and claimed refugee status, according to the Immigration and Refugee Board. Statistics from this year, when most of the fighting occurred, are not yet available.

The numbers are small compared to the 140,000 displaced people, mostly from Sri Lanka's Tamil minority, that the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees says are accommodated in overcrowded camps as tens of thousands continue to flee the conflict.

But there has been no international effort to resettle the displaced abroad, as the UNHCR has instead called on the Sri Lankan government to provide better conditions for its citizens.