The Public Symposium on ‘Refugees, Migration, and Arrival by Water’ took place on August 13th of 2016 at the Sheraton Hotel Newfoundland. Six panelists reflected on the 30th anniversary of the rescue of 155 Tamil refugees in Newfoundland waters who sought refuge from the civil war in Sri Lanka.
Capt. Gus Dalton discovered the refugees in several lifeboats near St. Shott’s on August 11th, 1986. His crew and other fishermen brought the group to shore where the local community provided food, shelter, and other necessities. Memorial University temporarily housed the refugees until Canadian officials resettled them in Montreal and Toronto.
The 2016 Symposium was part of “Tamil Journeys 1986,” a reunion organized by the Canadian Tamil Congress (CTC), which brought several of the refugees and their families back to Newfoundland to reunite with Capt. Dalton and his family; and, arranged for the purchase of one of the lifeboats.
The Symposium brought together Canada’s leading refugee rights experts, as well as a range of practitioner, legal, and community voices to reflect on humanitarianism in Canadian refugee policies, arrivals by water, and current global refugee crises. Thirty years later, the 1986 event remains enormously significant to the people of Newfoundland and Labrador and the Tamil-Canadian community. It is also highly important to the evolution of Canadian refugee policy.
Participants included: Dr. Jennifer Hyndman, Director York Centre for Refugee Studies, York University; Dr. Alison Mountz, Canada Research Chair in Global Migration, Geography, Wilfred Laurier; Dr. Yolande Pottie-Sherman, Assistant Professor, Geography, Memorial University; the Hon. Gerry Weiner, Minister of State (Immigration), 1986-1988; Minister of Multiculturalism and Citizenship, 1991-1993.; Harini Sivalingam, PhD Candidate, Socio-Legal Studies, York University; Dennis Hogan, former Assistant Deputy Minister (Workforce Development and Immigration), Department of Advanced Education and Skills, NL; Dr. James Baker, Banting Postdoctoral Fellow, McMaster University; Program and Research Manager, Association for New Canadians.
Dr. Yolande Pottie-Sherman in the Department of Geography at Memorial and Harini Sivalingam of York University co-organized the symposium, which was supported by the Quick Start for Public Engagement Fund and the Scholarship in the Arts Initiative. Covered in The Gazette and on CBC Radio, the event was well attended by a broad audience of MUN faculty and students, local immigration practitioners, and visitors from the Canadian Tamil Congress. Notable attendees included the Member of Parliament for Scarborough Rouge Park, the CEO of Canadian Immigration Museum at Pier 21, and Gemini award winning filmmaker, Cyrus Sundar Singh.