Canada’s Immigration Minister Jason Kenney is logging a lot of miles this week talking human smuggling with foreign officials.
On Friday, Kenney left for New Zealand, where he was expected to meet with Prime Minister John Key and members of his cabinet as part of a bilateral fellowship program between the two countries.
Top of mind for both countries is human smuggling.
“Canada and New Zealand have many shared experiences when it comes to citizenship and immigration. As highly prosperous and free nations, we are sought after destinations for immigrants, both those who obey rules and enter legally, and those who do not,” Kenney wrote in an e-mail Sunday.
In mid-July, a migrant ship carrying 87 Tamils from Sri Lanka was intercepted off the coast of Indonesia. While the migrants themselves claimed to be heading to New Zealand, Kenney said there is evidence to suggest the boat was actually heading to Canada.
Following his official visit in New Zealand, Kenney will travel to Thailand to meet with unspecified officials there. The ruling Democrat Party was ousted in Thailand’s general election earlier in July, and it was not made public which officials Kenney would meet with in Thailand.
But the southeast Asian country has long been seen as a transit country for human smuggling operations, and Canada has increased its police and intelligence presence there in an effort to nip migrant ships in the bud before they set sail for Canada.
Kenney said he would be offering Thai officials and Canadians working in Thailand a “thank you” for the work they’ve been doing to combat human smuggling.
“Building partnerships and participating in exchanges with our key allies helps us achieve greater security, improved integrity of our immigration systems and safer communities within our borders,” Kenney wrote.
The feds have re-introduced legislation that, if passed, would allow thea government to detain migrants who arrive en masse — even legitimate refugees — for up to one year. They would also be prohibited from becoming landed immigrants or sponsoring their family members to come to Canada for five years.
The government says the move would deter people from using criminal human smuggling rings, but critics say it’s wrong to punish the refugees themselves.
In Oct. 2009, the MV Ocean Lady arrived on Canada’s west coast, carrying 76 Tamil migrants who all sought refugee status. Less than a year later, the MV Sun Sea landed in B.C. carrying nearly 500 Tamils.