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Migration by water

Public symposium to mark 30th anniversary of rescue of Tamil refugees

Campus and Community

By Janet Harron

Thirty years ago, 155 Tamil refugees were rescued off the Avalon Peninsula by Gus Dalton, a fisherman from Admiral’s Beach.

While being processed, the Tamils were housed at Memorial University; they were all given special dispensation to stay and work in Canada.

Three decades later

A small reunion event is being held in St. Mary’s Bay to commemorate the occasion.

On Saturday, Aug. 13, from 10 a.m.-12 p.m. at the Sheraton Hotel in St. John’s, Memorial’s Department of Geography is co-sponsoring the event Refugees, Migration and Arrival by Water: A Public Symposium, to mark the 30th anniversary of the rescue of the Tamil refugees.

A photo of some of the Tamil refugees staying at Paton College that in the appeared in the Aug. 28, 1986, issue of the Gazette.
An Aug. 28, 1986, Gazette photo of some of the Tamil refugees who stayed at Paton College before travelling on to Montreal and Toronto.
Photo: Gazette archives

The symposium will bring together Canada’s leading refugee rights experts, as well as a range of practitioner, legal, and community voices. Its aim is to reflect on and contest the narratives of humanitarianism in Canadian refugee policies, and situate these discourses within the context of contemporary global refugee crises.

Refugee studies

The Vice-President (Academic’s) Fund for Scholarship in the Arts is supporting the participation of Dr. Jennifer Hyndman and Dr. Alison Mountz at the symposium.

Dr. Alison Mountz is a professor and Canada Research Chair in Global Migration in the geography department at Wilfrid Laurier University. Her research and teaching interests are at the cutting edge of research on global migration, including Canadian immigration and refugee policy.

Dr. Jennifer Hyndman is a professor in York University’s departments of social science and geography, and is director of York’s Centre for Refugee Studies. Her current research examines identity and politics among the Sri Lankan Toronto Tamil diaspora. She is a leading expert in refugee studies, geopolitics and international aid.

Urban geographer and assistant professor Dr. Yolande Pottie-Sherman has been instrumental in organizing the event.

“As part of its ‘white Canada’ policy, in 1914 Canadian officials denied entry to 376 Indian immigrants who arrived aboard the Komagata Maru.” –Dr. Yolande Pottie-Sherman

“Harini Sivalingam, a socio-legal scholar at York University, contacted me in March looking for a collaborator at Memorial University,” Dr. Pottie-Sherman said. “She thought I would be interested in the project because of my research interests in global migration and discourses surrounding immigration and refugees in Canada.”

Dr. Pottie-Sherman is currently working on a project examining media coverage of one of the first Canadian immigration controversies to generate international attention.

“As part of its ‘white Canada’ policy, in 1914 Canadian officials denied entry to 376 Indian immigrants who arrived aboard the Komagata Maru. My research partners and I analyzed 219 articles covering this incident published between May 5 and July 30, 1914. Our research finds that by portraying the Komagata’s passengers not only as radicals but also as threats to the very fabric of the British Empire, the media de-legitimized the migrants’ claims to move freely within it.”

Migration by water

Dr. Pottie-Sherman says the team was struck by the profound parallels between media coverage of the 1914 incident and contemporary narratives surrounding migration by water, including the landing of the Amelie in Nova Scotia in 1987, the 599 Fujianese refugees who arrived in 1992, the 492 Sri Lankan Tamils aboard the MV Sun Sea in 2010, and contemporary flows of Syrian refugees across the Mediterranean Sea.

“Dr. Mountz and Dr. Hyndman’s work align with several of our departments’ clusters and research strengths, especially society, knowledge, and values and globalization, economy and resources,” said Dr. Pottie-Sherman. “More broadly, their expertise on the topic of refugees is timely and will be of interest to colleagues in other departments, to local organizations working with immigrants and refugees, and the general public.”

Those wishing to attend the symposium should contact Dr. Pottie-Sherman by email.


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