OTTAWA — Government officials say Ottawa has ratcheted up its co-operation with Thailand and other “transit” countries to prevent human smugglers from sending boatloads of migrants to Canada.
The move comes just as The Canadian Press has learned that the federal government is now certain that smugglers in southeast Asia are in the midst of arranging for another boatload of migrants to come to Canada.
“The Government of Canada is working closely with authorities in transit countries, such as Thailand, to detect and disrupt human smuggling operations before they reach Canada,” a senior official told The Canadian Press.
The officials would not directly confirm speculation that Ottawa had a hand in the arrest last weekend of 155 Sri Lankan migrants in Thailand, saying they would not comment on specific cases.
But they pointed to the arrests as a reason why Canada must act.
“The recent arrests in Thailand 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 senior official said.
“While we will not comment on specific operational practices, stronger cooperation with authorities in transit countries such as Thailand is part of the Government of Canada’s overall strategy to prevent human smugglers from abusing Canada’s immigration system,” the official continued.
Prime Minister Stephen Harper has vowed to crack down on human smuggling after a ship carrying 492 Tamil migrants arrived in British Columbia this summer.
It was the second such ship in less than a year, and federal Tories say they fear Canada is becoming a magnet for asylum shoppers because of its generous policies.
Cooperation with foreign authorities to prevent more ships from coming here is only part of the federal plan. The Harper government is poised to table anti-human-smuggling legislation as soon as this week that would serve as a further deterrent.
But experts and refugee advocates warn that a crackdown on smuggling — whether it be overseas or on Canadian soil — will almost certainly hurt legitimate refugees desperately searching for a safe place to live.