The recent and uninvited arrival of an entire shipload of ethnic Tamil Sri Lankans at the coast of British Columbia came as an expected shock for the Canadian government, who were aware of the ship's approach days before its arrival, and as a moral conundrum for many Canadians watching the events unfold from afar.
The Tamil peoples of northern Sri Lanka have been in a civil war against the majority Sinhalese in the south.
Typical of many of these types of conflicts, the Tamils complain of lack of representation, limited rights, and racial harassment at the hands of their neighbours.
The conflict broke into secessionist warfare more than 20 years ago, with bombings, guerrilla warfare, and sniper attacks keeping the tensions high.
The Tamils, represented in many cases by the guerrilla movement called 'The Tigers' or 'Tamil Tigers,' were named a terrorist organization by the Canadian government, as well as other national and international bodies, which had an effect of choking off some of the funds that had been flowing in to support the fighters.
For a while, the level of support the movement was receiving was unbelievable, the Tigers actually shipping in a combat aircraft at one point and flying bombing raids against strategic targets in the south, like oil storage and refining depots.
This state of things apparently ended this year after a major and aggressive offensive by the Sri Lankan government, which saw the Sri Lankan army push into the Tamil regions of the country, taking effective control of all areas previously considered to be under Tiger control.
Again, similar to many of these ethnic struggles, many Tamils were imprisoned or dislocated by the conflict and the army push this year, leading to a great deal of suffering in the northern parts of the country.
Therefore it comes as no surprise that scads of ethnic Tamils would be looking for a new home, away from a war-torn country where they feel victimized and isolated.
However, this raises the difficult question for developed countries about what to do with these immigrants, especially when you see a human smuggling operation on a scale so vast that 500 at a time show up at once.
The usual way a refugee claim is filed is through a consulate or embassy, often in a country outside the state in question.
The claims are investigated and verified (there are very stringent requirements for refugee status to be granted, and often involve the physical safety of the claimant) and a thorough investigation of the individuals background is done, looking for criminal connections or actions.
Some criminal charges may be ignored. If a writer who wrote about and against an oppressive government is then charged with sedition, as an example, then the value of the charges and the supposed criminality of the applicant may be ignored.
If the claimant passes these tests, then a refugee status may be granted, allowing the individual to migrate to Canada.
When 500 show up on the shores of our country however, the problem of verifying the claims and backgrounds of this many people becomes pressing, especially when there was a declared terrorist organization involved with community of people who show up.
Without any choice but to detain these individuals while the investigations are underway, and the legal hearings are ongoing, a burdensome cost develops.
However, as a nation, how can we turn away those in desperate need, when we have committed ourselves as a nation to assisting those in this kind of need?
This is an issue that has plagued states like Italy, France, Spain, and Germany for decades now, each dealing with a huge influx of illegal immigrants from Africa.
These states have dealt with the problem with varying degrees of success, and perhaps offer us a solution to our newly developing dilemma.
In the meantime, I hope that the federal government will revisit our human smuggling laws, ensure they are strict enough, and will aggressively pursue charges against the organizers of this mass migration, making use of extradition agreements where they exist should the perpetrators be outside of the country.
I believe we should have open doors for those in need, but for our own security, it is imperative that we control the inflow, or someone who we really don't want here might slip through the doors.