News/Canada: Missing migrants feared to be with gangs

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Subject: News/Canada: Missing migrants feared to be with gangs
From: Melanie Orhant (morhant@igc.org)
Date: Wed Sep 29 1999 - 11:25:10 EDT


As one interviewee in this article states: "Keeping the victim locked up in
jail isn't the solution here."

Melanie

_________

Missing migrants feared to be with gangs
Dene Moore
September 5, 1999

VANCOUVER (CP) - Immigration officials cannot protect Chinese migrants from
the criminal gangs that smuggled them to Canada, a department spokeswoman
said Sunday.

Lois Reimer said immigration officials have told refugee claimants who
arrived aboard the first of three ships this summer to go to police for
help if they are approached by so-called snakeheads, those who smuggled the
migrants into Canadian waters off British Columbia.

"It is a police matter," Reimer said.

"We're not a police agency (and) to deal with personal threats or risk to a
person, that's definitely a police matter."

Some of the people who have worked with the Chinese migrants since their
release from custody believe that up to 30 from the first boatload have
disappeared.

They fear the refugee claimants have been tracked down by the gangs that
brought them here.

Many still owe thousands of dollars, and will likely be taken to New York
where they will work as indentured slaves to pay off the price of passage
to Canada.

"They have told me that they paid half of the sum and they still owe
$15,000 to $20,000," said Victor Wong, executive director of the Vancouver
Association of Chinese Canadians.

Others owe even more, said Wong, who has met with a large group of migrants
daily for the past four weeks.

"Unfortunately, the gang members do know where everyone is," he said.

Some migrants are pressured into forfeiting their refugee claims because
the snakeheads threaten their families back in China, he said.

Immigration officials have told the migrants to inform Vancouver city
police of any threats or intimidation, Reimer said.

Police have received no complaints, she said.

"We are urging the community, if they have any solid information, they
should be talking to the police."

Wong said reports have been made, although not enough.

The migrants fear police, he said, particularly after being held and, in
some cases, strip searched by RCMP after their arrival.

The 321 migrants from the other two ships that smuggled them into Canadian
waters are all being held while they are being processed.

But Wong does not want to see migrants remain in custody because of the
threat of flight.

"Keeping the victim locked up in jail isn't the solution here."

Rather, Canadian law enforcement agencies need to crack down on the
criminal element that profits from smuggling humans, he said.

"All of the enforcement agencies here in Canada need to get a better handle
on this because Canada's part of this pipeline."

Lillian To, executive director of the Chinese aid agency SUCCESS, said she
also fears the missing migrants have been lured away.

"We are concerned because some of them had expressed some concern that . .
. the snakeheads were watching them or following them," To said.

About 440 migrants arrived off the B.C. coast this summer aboard three
boats. Eighty-six refugee claimants from the first ship have been released
from custody.

"Some of them have closed their bank accounts and that's why there is the
concern about what's happened," To said.

The missing migrants have also failed to show up for regular orientation
meetings, English classes and legal appointments that would help process
their refugee claims.

"Some didn't pick up their (social assistance) cheques, they don't speak
English and they don't know the environment," To said.

"So it would be difficult for them to go very far unless somebody's with
them or takes them away or something."

SUCCESS volunteers who visited the migrants in their rooming houses near
Chinatown told To the migrants had simply disappeared.

"We're concerned about their safety, about what can happen to them," To said.

She said about 30 people seem to have vanished but is uncertain about the
exact number.

Reimer said officials are trying to confirm whether the migrants have left.

If they have moved without informing authorities, Canada-wide arrest
warrants will be issued.

"People do have mobility rights," Reimer said. "People can move and as long
as. . .within 72 hours they notify us of their new address they haven't
violated any of their terms and conditions."

Warrants have already been issued for five men from the first boatload who
failed to report to the Immigration and Refugee Board last month.

Melanie Orhant
morhant@igc.org
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