The smuggling syndicates lost the lucrative business of arms when the war ended in Sri Lanka so they switched to human cargo, using the expertise and government contacts they had developed, stated Jason Kenney, Canada’s Minister of Citizenship and Immigration.
“We know that there are three or four syndicates, each of which had developed an area of expertise in smuggling contraband in Southeast Asia in general, but more particularly contraband armaments to the LTTE in northern Sri Lanka,” he told The National Post.
Canadian officials believe the MV Sun Sea operation was facilitated by long-established Southeast Asian smuggling syndicates.
Investigation carried out by Canadian authorities has identified 32 so far with suspected ties to the Tamil Tigers rebels, organized crime and war crimes. Also on the ship were “prominent figures” who played “primary roles in the smuggling venture,” the Canada Border Services Agency (CBSA) report says.
“We’ve committed to the Canadian people to use all of the legal means at our disposal to stop and disincentivize the smugglers from targeting Canada.” said Mr. Kenney.
The Canadian government is also taking a “vigorous approach” in such countries as Thailand, where last fall the RCMP and Canada Border Services Agency helped disrupt another vessel before it left for Canada, the Minister said.
But he said the smuggling syndicates are still active and have taken deposits from passengers who are now being moved around transit countries awaiting the “green light” to board a ship to Canada. “The syndicates appear to be, in some cases, well-advanced in planning future voyages,” he said
As many as 45 smuggling agents were involved, The National Post said, posted at key locations along the smuggling route. They were the recruiters who circulated in the aftermath of the Sri Lankan civil war, offering passage to the West — for a price.
The fee varied but most paid $20,000 to $30,000. The agents collected a deposit of as little as 10%. The rest was to be paid in Canada, where the migrants were assured they would be wealthy.
The migrants were not even sure what they were getting for their money. “Many claim to have not known what the destination would be,” reads the “Protected” CBSA report obtained by The National Post. “Some were told it would be Australia, New Zealand or Canada.”
A man, who can only be identified as B005, told Canadian officials he was not an official crew member but that when he arrived at the ship he was asked whether he had any naval skills, and he did.
The report said, between 1990 and 1996, he had worked on a Tamil Tigers smuggling ship called the MV Sun Bird. He was well-travelled. He had already made a refugee claim in Germany, and when turned down he went to the U.K. After a failed attempt to move to New Zealand, he decided to join his brother in Canada.
VOYAGE OF THE MV SUN SEA
492 — On board.
380 — Men.
63 — Women.
49 — Children.
5 – Unaccompanied minors.
32 — Allegedly inadmissible for terrorism, organized crime and war crimes.
6 — Years one of the crew had worked on a Tamil Tigers smuggling ship.
1 — Died at sea.
107 — Remain in detention (as of Feb. 10).
45 — Smuggling agents involved.
$20,000-30,000 — Smuggling fee.
Less than $30 — Cash most were carrying when they arrived.
15 — Sun Sea engine room crew.
Courtesy: The National Post
The smuggling agents helped their clients get passports and visas so they could travel to Thailand, the transit country. Once there, the agents took them to “holding venues” where they waited until they were taken offshore to the ship. Before boarding, the agents took their passports and other identity documents.
The RCMP and Royal Thai Police are still investigating the suspected smuggling kingpins behind the Sun Sea. A man known as German Babu, who has dual German and Sri Lankan citizenship, was arrested in Bangkok last month. The Minister said the syndicate likely has a presence in Canada as well.
The Conservatives’ long-term solution is Bill C-49, a proposed law that would allow officials to detain smuggled migrants for one year and bar them from applying for permanent residence or sponsoring family members for five years.