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Cablegate: Two If by Sea: Sri Lankan Refugee Hopefuls Test

VZCZCXRO2339
RR RUEHMT RUEHPT RUEHVC
DE RUEHLM #0992/01 3011132
ZNY CCCCC ZZH
R 281132Z OCT 09
FM AMEMBASSY COLOMBO
TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC 0688
INFO RUEHBK/AMEMBASSY BANGKOK 3967
RUEHBY/AMEMBASSY CANBERRA 1017
RUEHKL/AMEMBASSY KUALA LUMPUR 0391
RUEHLO/AMEMBASSY LONDON 5185
RUEHOT/AMEMBASSY OTTAWA 0014
RUEHPF/AMEMBASSY PHNOM PENH 0086
RUEHGO/AMEMBASSY RANGOON 1007
RUEHGP/AMEMBASSY SINGAPORE 5779
RUEHCG/AMCONSUL CHENNAI 9587
RUEHBN/AMCONSUL MELBOURNE 0027
RUEHMT/AMCONSUL MONTREAL 0014
RUEHPT/AMCONSUL PERTH 0001
RUEHDN/AMCONSUL SYDNEY 0232
RUEHON/AMCONSUL TORONTO 1346
RUEHVC/AMCONSUL VANCOUVER 0019
RHMFISS/DEPT OF HOMELAND SECURITY WASHINGTON DC

C O N F I D E N T I A L SECTION 01 OF 03 COLOMBO 000992

SENSITIVE
SIPDIS

E.O. 12958: DECL: 10/26/2019
TAGS: PREF CVIS SMIG PTER PHUM CE CA AS
SUBJECT: TWO IF BY SEA: SRI LANKAN REFUGEE HOPEFULS TEST
NEW ROUTES TO AUSTRALIA, NORTH AMERICA

REF: VANCOUVER 244

Classified By: Deputy Chief of Mission Valerie C. Fowler, reasons 1.4 b
and d).

1. (C) SUMMARY. The recent arrival of a freighter of Sri
Lankan Tamil refugee claimants in Canada, along with a surge
in Sri Lankans attempting to reach Australia by boat,
highlight the increasing desperation and sophistication of
would-be asylees and refugees of Tamil ethnicity hoping to
reach Western countries. Apparent links between the
designated terrorist organization the Liberation Tigers of
Tamil Eelam (LTTE) and the boat, as well as at least one of
the 76 men, demonstrate the challenges these countries face
in ascertaining the veracity of protection claims while also
assessing potential security risks. END SUMMARY.

----------------------------------------
BACKGROUND - M.V. OCEAN LADY INTERCEPTED
----------------------------------------

2. (U) On October 17, Canadian authorities intercepted a
freighter calling itself "M.V. Ocean Lady" in Canadian waters
off the coast of British Columbia. Onboard, Canadian
authorities found 76 men claiming to be of Sri Lankan Tamil
origin, averaging 27 years old and ranging in age from 12 to
39. This is the first boat landing of Sri Lankans in Canada
since 1986, when a group of 183 were dropped onshore in
Halifax.

3. (C) The ship previously sailed under the name "Princess
Easwary" and is one of five known to the Canadians to have
been previously used by the LTTE to move weapons between
Cambodia and Sri Lanka. Meanwhile, Canadian officials in
Colombo report that a second of these boats, the "Princess
Yasmine," may also be en route to Canada, perhaps arriving
within the next two weeks.

4. (C) Early indications from the Canadian High Commission
are that many of the men aboard the Ocean Lady flew into
Bangkok then traveled overland to Kuala Lumpur, in order to
avoid tighter immigration formalities at the Kuala Lumpur
airport. The ship is believed to have departed Malaysia on
September 19, at which point Canadian officials began
tracking it in cooperation with other partners. Before
departure from Malaysia, the last-known crew - primarily
Burmese and Cambodians - may have been deposited as part of a
separate migration attempt within Australasia. Sailing under
the name "M.V. Ocean Lady," the ship may have made multiple
stops in the region to collect additional passengers en route
to Canada.

5. (C) As reported REFTEL, Canada's large Tamil community
has made itself an early advocate for the men. One Canadian
official in Colombo expressed to the embassy his concerns
over the rapid politicization of these cases, particularly
the influence that this may have on Canada's Immigration and
Refugee Board, which is composed of appointees who have often
been accused of pursuing individual agendas rather than
upholding common standards for approving claims.

--------------------------------------------- -----
A COMMON THREAD OF PREVIOUS FAILED MIGRATION TRIES
--------------------------------------------- -----

6. (C) At least four of the men who arrived in Canada aboard
the Ocean Lady have previous visa refusals from the United
States under Section 214(b) of the Immigration and
Nationality Act. One was refused on bona fides in Singapore
during January 2008 for a C1 visa to transit to Belize as a
seafarer. He applied with a group of five other Sri Lankans
of Tamil origin; none of those names register aboard the
Ocean Lady. Two others are young brothers from Jaffna in
northern Sri Lanka who were refused in late 2007 along with
their father for B1/B2 visas to visit a maternal relative.
Notably, the father, whose name does not appear on the Ocean
Lady manifest, was a retired seafarer with over US$50,000
savings, which is relatively significant for Sri Lanka, and
they claimed to have another sibling already in Canada. The
fourth was refused in mid-2008 along with his wife and two
children after applying for a B1/B2 visa to visit a cousin
working at the Sri Lankan Mission to the United Nations.

7. (C) Three of the men aboard the Ocean Lady have lookouts
issued by other governments. The most significant is
MANICKAVASAGAR, Kartheepan (also spelled as MANICCAVASAGAR,
Karthtepan; DOB 08 AUG 1983), who is wanted by Sri Lanka on
an INTERPOL Red Notice for charges of aiding and abetting the
LTTE. Sri Lanka's warrant lists him as armed and dangerous,
violent and suicidal. Another of the group was caught at the
Bangkok airport in April 2009 attempting to travel to Moscow
via Beijing on a fraudulent Malaysian visa. A third was
deported from Fiji in 2004 after entering with four other Sri
Lankans of Tamil origin, one who was a known human smuggler,
believed to possibly be en route to New Zealand.

--------------------------------------------- ----
POSSIBLE LINKS BETWEEN AUSTRALIA, CANADA ARRIVALS
--------------------------------------------- ----

8. (SBU) Authorities in Australia and Canada are trying to
ascertain the connections between the Ocean Lady and a recent
surge in both successful and attempted boat arrivals of Sri
Lankans to Australia. Officials at the Australian High
Commission in Colombo report that more than twelve boats
carrying Sri Lankan refugee claimants have reached Australia
in the past year, with most arriving within the past six
months. The majority of the estimated 750 Sri Lankans who
have made it to Australian waters over the past year are
being held as refugee claimants on Christmas Island in the
Indian Ocean, where Australian law affords them fewer options
of appeal than on the mainland.

9. (SBU) At least 500 of these 750 Sri Lankans are believed
to be of Tamil origin. Among those whose refugee claims have
been heard and refused thus far, Australia has only begun
attempting to repatriate ethnic Sinhalese. One Sinhalese man
who recently returned from Christmas Island told The
Australian newspaper that he voluntarily returned to Sri
Lanka after being told by Australian authorities than he had
less than a one percent chance of having his claim approved.
According to Australian High Commission immigration officers,
the majority of Tamil refugee claims are likely to be
accepted; however, the officers note that "approvals are a
big pull factor" and express concern that such results will
only encourage more Sri Lankans to attempt passage to
Australia.

10. (SBU) As is suspected in the Canadian case, many Sri
Lankan refugee boats arriving in Australian waters make
multiple stops in the region to collect additional
passengers, who are often ferried to a "mother ship" by
smaller boats. In the past, these "mother ships" have
primarily originated in Malaysia and Indonesia. However,
there has been a recent increase in the number of boats
departing directly from Sri Lanka. According to Australian
officials, many Tamil men have sufficient deep sea fishing
and other maritime experience to be able to make the
fourteen-day voyage successfully, without outside assistance
from Indonesia or Malaysia-based smugglers. Interviews with
fishermen in an October 26 article in Sri Lanka's Sunday
Leader newspaper underscore this point. As one man explains,
"(Smuggling is) happening with the consent of the harbor
men... We can help by advising them of the risks and helping
them to buy a boat or fishing gear. It all comes down to
money."

11. (SBU) As Australia and other countries increase their
surveillance of boats moving within the region, more are
being intercepted before reaching their intended destination.
On October 11, the Indonesian Navy intercepted a boat
carrying 254 men, women and children claiming to be Sri
Lankans en route to Australia. Indonesian authorities
arrested Abraham Lauhenapessy, known as "Captain Bram," an
Indonesian who is believed to have assisted more than 1,500
asylum seekers in reaching Australia since 1999. The
spokesman of the group detained in Indonesia claims that
their attempt is linked to that of the Ocean Lady, with those
choosing to attempt to reach Australia paying US$15,000 each,
whereas the Ocean Lady passengers paid $45,000 to reach
Canada. Australian and Canadian officials in Colombo suspect
but cannot yet confirm that there is a direct connection
between the two. According to Australian officials, they
have thus far been unable to verify that the 254 are of Sri
Lankan origin, as some evidence points to them originating
from Tamil Nadu in southern India. Meanwhile, yet another
boat carrying 78 individuals claiming to be Sri Lankan Tamils
was intercepted by Australian patrols in Indonesian waters on
October 19.

-------
COMMENT
-------

12. (C) COMMENT. Intense recent efforts by Sri Lankans to
reach Western countries by boat reflect individual
desperation as well as larger questions about how Tamil
minorities - particularly young men - affected by civil
conflict perceive their future prospects. For the receiving
countries, it will likely prove difficult to differentiate
between genuine victims and those who remain loyal supporters
of the LTTE looking to reorganize outside of Sri Lanka.
Furthermore, each asylum claim successfully granted only
increases the pull of motivation for others to attempt their
own passage. Details are still emerging; however, the
financial and logistical resources required to successfully
bring the Ocean Lady to Canadian shores suggest a complex
underlying human smuggling network not easily disabled. END
COMMENT.


BUTENIS

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