Canada: Thai officials arrest Tamil migrants

Minister Jason Kenney said the arrests should deter other migrants hoping to sneak into Canada.

"We understand that they ... detained over 100 illegal immigrants who apparently were planning on coming to Canada through a smuggling operation," Kenney said. "We think this sends a strong message to the smugglers and their would-be customers that they should think twice."

Kenney wouldn't say whether Canadian officials were involved in the yesterday's arrests in Thailand. But he says Canada has increased its co-operation with Southeast Asian authorities to deter human smuggling.

In August, a Thai-flagged cargo ship carrying nearly 500 ethnic Tamils fleeing Sri Lanka arrived in British Columbia. The migrants arrived safely after spending three months at sea in the belly of a cargo ship before it docked on Vancouver Island.

Last October, a ship carrying 76 Sri Lankan migrants was intercepted in Canadian waters. All have been released from custody while their cases are being processed. Canadian officials were concerned that the rebel Tamil Tigers, which fought and lost a bloody 25-year war for independence that ended in May 2009, were smuggling people into Canada, home to the largest Tamil community outside Sri Lanka and India.

Tamil leaders in Canada say the ethnic Tamil minority in Sri Lanka faces persecution. The United Nations and some non-governmental organisations have reported people in Sri Lanka are still being abused.

These incidents led the Canadian government to take measures to, as it said, ensure its refugee system is not hijacked by criminals or terrorists. Canada had labelled the Tamil Tigers a terrorist group in 2006.

Canada has proposed new legislation to impose stiffer jail terms on human smugglers, detain smuggled migrants for up to a year and put them on a type of probation for five years. The government said it has also increased co-operation between Canadian law enforcement and authorities in southeast Asia, especially in Thailand.

"These arrests under Thai immigration laws are a reminder that human smuggling operators have also used Thailand as a transit country to target Canada's immigration system," the immigration minister's spokesman Alykhan Velshi told The Associated Press.

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