Swiss to get tough on Sri Lankan refugee status

“Anybody who returns risks being treated like an LTTE sympathiser. They will be taken in for questioning at the airport and most likely tortured and imprisoned,” Anna Annor, vice-president of Swiss Council of Eelam Tamils, told swissinfo.ch.She claims that many prisoners of war from the 2009 war have still not been released.A 47-page report released by the SEM on Tuesday – based on visits to Sri Lanka in January and February – testifies that conditions have improved since its last analysis in 2014.Poverty and lack of economic and career prospects were cited as the biggest problem in conflict-affected north of the country. The report acknowledged that individuals entering the country from abroad are investigated and those who left the country illegally (by sea using the services of human traffickers) can be denounced and fined for violating immigration laws. Swiss authorities have announced that they will apply more stringent criteria for granting Sri Lankan nationals – mostly ethnic Tamils – refugee status. They believe that the situation on the ground has improved since the 2009 civil war, swissinfo.ch reported.“Today we acknowledge that considerable progress has been made in the area of human rights, for example in the freedom of expression and assembly,” the State Secretariat for Migration (SEM) said in a statement. However, the authorities acknowledged that “some gaps remain, especially in the area of human rights” and as a result individual circumstances will be taken into consideration while examining asylum requests.At the end of May 2016, 1,316 asylum applications from Sri Lankan nationals were pending at the SEM. In total, over 5,000 Sri Lankans have been taken in by Switzerland, of which 3,674 have been given refugee status. A total of 1,613 have been admitted provisionally and potentially face the threat of expulsion. “Therefore, more restrictive conditions now apply for recognising the refugee status of journalists, human rights activists and opposition politicians.” “Although police violence is known to be a general problem, no more recent information is available on ill treatment upon entry at the airport in Colombo,” the report states. The SEM also added that the need to protect those with a link to the vanquished Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE), a separatist rebel group of ethnic Tamils, was decreasing since the end of the bitter war in 2009 between the Sri Lankan army and LTTE for control of northern, Tamil-dominated part of the country, in which the latter were defeated. During the visit of Foreign Minister Mangala Samaraweera to Switzerland in March, there was talk of strengthening bilateral relations between the two countries, especially in the area of economic cooperation. The trade between Sri Lanka and Switzerland is worth around CHF300 million. A “migration partnership” was also agreed during the visit whose technical details ought to be finalised soon.Annor claims that Switzerland’s keenness to trade with Sri Lanka is affecting its stance on the human rights situation in the country.“The Swiss government needs to be neutral on the issue instead of supporting Colombo. It is all about business,” she said. (Colombo Gazette) read more

Donors help Church Out Serving grow

A local group is working towards changing food insecurity issues in Norfolk County.Since 2017, Church Out Serving has been growing crops in the community to donate to local food banks.From the 18 garden beds,  7,249 vegetable servings have been harvested this year. Depending on the weather, that number could double because they are about halfway through this year’s harvest.“There are people in our community eating more healthy vegetables than they would have if these gardens were not here,” said Eric Haverkamp, chair of the group.According to the Nutritious Food Basket survey, one in nine households in Norfolk and Haldimand deal with some type of food insecurity.Church Out Serving held a donor appreciation event on Friday to acknowledge the help that goes into running these gardens. The three site sponsors are Evergreen Heights Church, Indwell’s Hambleton Hall and Unilever in Simcoe.The appreciation event was for donors and volunteers, with about 150 invitations sent out.“That will give you an indication of how many people are involved with this,” said Haverkamp.Donors and volunteers gathered at Hambleton Hall on Friday morning to see some of the gardens that have been part of this project.“It takes a whole community to make projects like this happen,” said Virginia Lucas, the group’s vice-chair. “We have an incredibly generous community, frankly.”The group’s budget benefited from winning an online competition by Scotts Canada, called Gro for Good. It received a $5,000 grant for a garden project addressing health and wellness.“It was based on a voting competition across Canada,” said Lucas.“Our community rallied together and voted for the Gathering Food Gardens. It is only because of our community that we’re sustainable.”Among those at Friday’s event were representatives from donors such as Eising Greenhouses and Garden Centre, Scotts Canada, Gintec Shade Technologies and Rona Simcoe.“…It’s just wonderful to see how well everything has grown,” said Brad Pridham of Scotts Canada. “The gardens look amazing.”The gardens are used to grow vegetables, including onions, lettuce, tomatoes, and sweet potatoes. To date the gardens have provided 28,028 servings of vegetables to local residents.“The Gathering Food Gardens are a community-building, food-security initiative,” said Haverkamp. “We gather together to grow vegetables for our neighbours who have limited access to fresh healthy produce.”The food is distributed to local food programs,  food banks, community meals, the Church Out Serving’s meal program for the homeless, and their weekly community meal First Serving Dinners.astaylor@postmedia.com read more