TORONTO - Despite Colombo’s refusal to give visa to its parliamentary secretary Deepak Obhral, Canada said Monday it will continue to engage Sri Lanka on the Tamil issue and work to rehabilitate Tamils displaced by the conflict.
Indian-origin parliamentary secretary (equal to minister of state in India) Deepak Obhrai, who was denied visa by the Sri Lankan High Commission here last week, said Canada remained committed to the reconciliation process in the island nation.
“Despite denial of visa to me, we want to be engaged with Sri Lankans to bring about reconciliation between them and the Tamils,” Obhrai told IANS. Obhrai was the second-highest ranking Canadian to be denied entry into Sri Lanka last week.
Before him, Canadian opposition leader Bob Rae was sent back from Colombo last Tuesday after being told that he was a LTTE sympathizer. Rae, who is foreign critic (shadow foreign minister) for the opposition Liberal party, was forced to sleep at Colombo’s international airport before being put on the next return flight.
He represents the Toronto constituency where the Tamils live in large numbers.
“When the Sri Lankans were deporting Rae, they told me at that time that they cannot accommodate me. To put it bluntly, they refused me the visa,” said Obhrai.
But Canada’s Indian-origin minister, who is parliamentary secretary to the foreign affairs minister, said, “Canada’s position on Sri Lanka has not changed despite their denial of entry to Bob Rae and me. We are going to be involved with them.”
He said his government has given Sri Lanka $3 million for humanitarian work to rehabilitate the Tamils displaced by the conflict.
“We are concerned about the displaced people and want them to be rehabilitated at the earliest. We also want Sri Lanka to remove all irritants in the process of reconciliation in the country,” Obhrai said.
Canada is home to 300,000 Sri Lankan Tamils who came here during the 25-year-long conflict. The biggest Tamil group outside Sri Lanka, they were in the forefront of worldwide protests against the Sri Lankan assault on the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Ealam (LTTE).
(Gurmukh Singh can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org)