Australia Asks Canada To Resettle Tamil Refugees

Australia asks Canada to resettle Tamil refugees
Requests that unknown number be taken in

Amy Husser
Canwest News Service
Published: Friday, December 18, 2009

The Canadian government has been asked by Australia to resettle a small but unknown number of Tamil refugees whose boat was found drifting through international waters near Indonesia earlier this year.

In mid-October, 78 Sri Lankan Tamils were found in a boat floating off the coast of Indonesia's Bintan Island, and signalling for assistance. An Australian customs vessel, the Oceanic Viking, came to their rescue, taking the asylum seekers aboard.

When the ship attempted to bring them back to Indonesia, where they had been living for several years, they refused to disembark and asked to be taken to Australia.

The move prompted a month-long standoff, with the refugees living aboard the customs ship.

Since the United Nations refugee agency designated all of them genuine refugees last month, the Australian government has been scrambling to find them homes.

“I can confirm that Australia has asked the government of Canada to resettle some of them,” said Douglas Kellam, a spokesman with the Department of Citizenship and Immigration.

“The only cases Canada has agreed to consider — and none have been accepted so far — are those that can demonstrate that they have close family links to somebody here in Canada, that they have been referred by the UNHCR … and we'll have to be satisfied that they are not otherwise inadmissible to Canada.”

According to Australian media reports, that country's prime minister used “robust foreign diplomacy” to resettle the Tamils, calling in friendships from other nations.

In addition to Canada, Norway and New Zealand have agreed to take some of the Tamil refugees. The U.S. is also believed to be part of the discussions.

“We don't know how many [will resettle in Canada]; it depends how many declare an interest and how many are ultimately accepted,” Mr. Kellam said. “I can tell you at the present time, there won't even be a quarter of them that will be coming.”

Mr. Kellam also said this is the first time Australia has asked Canada to resettle refugees, although other countries have done so in the past. “It's not a common thing.”

Australia has said it will begin its resettlement program next week, but Mr. Kellam said Canada's process will be much longer.

“From our end, we're going to have to fully screen them — that would require security, criminality and medical screening.”

Canada takes in about 25,000 refugees annually.