Wednesday, April 11, 2007

Stop deportations, Tamils plead

Max Harrold, Montreal Gazette
Published: Tuesday, April 10, 2007

Standing in front of postersized photos of whole families hanged and others shot while they slept, a young Montreal mother described her own relatives’ tragedy in her native Sri Lanka.

“My father, mother and brother were all shot one night at dinner,” said Santhiraleda Ganeshalingam, 32, who heard the news in a phone call from her sister in Sri Lanka last May.

The killings were part of continuing civil war between Sri Lanka’s majority Sinhalese population and the minority Tamils, Ganeshalingam said during a recent news conference held by the association Quebec Tamil Women to launch a monthlong awareness campaign across Canada.

Members of the group urged the Canadian government to speed up immigration sponsorship requests and refugee claims and stop deporting Sri Lankans because they face grim prospects in their native country.

They said 170,000 Tamils are near starvation in refugee camps in eastern Sri Lanka because the government has cut off humanitarian aid to the region. Another 600,000 are struggling in the northern Jaffna region because of stateenforced embargoes on medicine and basic food stocks.
Tamils comprise about 15 per cent of Sri Lanka’s 20 million people.

Ganeshalingam, whose sister also was killed, said she now has four nieces and nephews in Sri Lanka without parents.

“Now I cry every time the phone rings,” she said, clutching her daughters, age 3 and 4. “I worry what will happen next. I want to bring (the rest of) my family here and protect them.”

Her husband, Sabarathnam Ganeshalingam, 39, said his wife has been on antidepressant medication. “She’s having a hard time. She wakes up crying in the middle of the night.”

Canada’s government needs to take action and help reunite Canadian citizens and permanent residents of Canada with their loved ones caught in the middle of the war, said Ramani Balendra, 46, a QTW member.

“We are 300,000 Tamils in Canada (including) 23,000 in Quebec,” said Banlendra, former president of the Canadian Tamil Congress. “We pay taxes.We want the Canadian government to heed its own policy of reuniting families.”

Balendra said the QTW does not support the rebel Tamil Tigers, who have been labeled as terrorists.

A spokesperson for federal Immigration Minister Diane Finley said the government is monitoring the conflict and is “sensitive to the circumstances” faced by Sri Lankans in Canada.

With few exceptions, they cannot be removed from Canada without the right to ask for an assessment of the risk they face in their homeland.