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CAS Ward Deported

November 8, 2009 permalink

Sanjeev (Alex) Kuhendrarajah's grandmother is a Canadian citizen. His mother is a Canadian citizen. Yet because he spent part of his childhood in the care of children's aid, formalities to make him a citizen were not completed during his youth. As a teenager, he got involved in a gang war that led to his deportation. He how lives in Chennai India.



Finally, the real Alex steps forward

Stephen Fitzpatrick, Jakarta correspondent, The Australian, November 09, 2009 12:00AM

Sanjeev Kuhendrarajah
Sri Lankan negotiator Alex yesterday in the port of Merak, Indonesia, where a boat carrying 255 asylum-seekers is docked. Picture: Budhi Oka Source: The Australian

FORMER Toronto gang member Sanjeev Kuhendrarajah is heavily tattooed, has a criminal record for death threats and firearms possession that got him deported from Canada six years ago, and is now, perhaps improbably, the articulate and thoughtful spokesman for a boatload of Tamil asylum-seekers trying to get to Christmas Island.

A Canadian immigration department assessment refers to chronic alcohol and drug abuse in his youth, persistent anger management issues and a "love-hate relationship" with his mother.

But the 27-year-old adamantly denies he is a people-smuggler.

Kuhendrarajah, otherwise known as Alex - a pseudonym he said he had used for years and which he goes by on the social networking site Facebook - has finally spoken about his past after the Sri Lankan government accused him and a brother of being involved in the human trafficking business. Because of his excellent English, Kuhendrarajah became the voice of the boatload of nearly 250 Sri Lankan refugees tied up at Merak dock, in western Java, after it was intercepted by the Indonesian navy on an Australian intelligence tip-off early last month.

But now, fearful for the safety in Sri Lanka of his wife and three young children, who are trying desperately to also escape the country after the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam rebellion was put down several months ago, he says he regrets having taken such a prominent role in the affair.

He has also admitted concealing facts about his life.

Kuhendrarajah agreed to speak out on the condition that his immediate family not be identified. The Australian has, however, spoken to Kuhendrarajah's wife in Sri Lanka, where she is awaiting travel documents she hopes will be organised within days.

"The Sri Lankan government is out to get me, they are going to try to crucify me, and they will do that by any means necessary," he said.

"The reason I'm speaking up against these allegations is to prove to the world that this government is cruel, that it has no mercy. They will do anything to try to discredit me and to ruin my family. If anything happens to my wife, if anything happens to my children, I will hold the Australian government and the Indonesian government responsible for their murders."

Kuhendrarajah said he grew up in Canada, after his family fled Sri Lanka following anti-Tamil riots in 1983. Arriving in Toronto via London - where his father remained after separating from Kuhendrarajah's mother, and is now a prosperous gold trader - the family joined relatives who had been in the multicultural city for more than two decades.

By his own admission, Kuhendrarajah's life went off the rails early, and at the age of 12 he became a ward of the state after running away from home and accusing his mother of abuse.

He says he eventually fell in with a Tamil street gang at the height of a Toronto turf war that left several people dead.

"The criminal conviction that had me deported was because as a child I made some very bad mistakes, and those mistakes cost me my entire life," he said.

Kuhendrarajah was, for about three years until his arrest in September 2000, a member of the A.K. Kannan gang, one of two major Tamil criminal organisations responsible for a reign of terror on Toronto's streets. An uncle was also a senior leader of the gang.

"There were many fights, and these fights got bigger with each year," he said. "First people started fighting with their hands, and then people started fighting with small knives and then larger knives. It just escalated."

A.K. Kannan had started out as a small heroin-trading franchise but the conflict quickly exploded with its main rival, the VVT gang, named for the town of Valvettithurai in northern Sri Lanka where its leader originated.

Reports have linked VVT to funding for the Tamil Tigers, although Kuhendrarajah was adamant the battles, while originating in homeland discontents, were mainly about local issues.

More than a dozen tit-for-tat fatal shootings in the late 1990s forced authorities to act, rounding up for deportation several dozen gang members in late 2001.

By that time Kuhendrarajah, one of those identified for forced removal under a special organised crime section of the country's immigration act, had already spent a year in jail on the firearms and death-threat convictions, and was due for release.

"And that is the point where I learnt I wasn't a citizen," Kuhendrarajah said, revealing as he has done so many times in his short life a combination of acute intelligence and blind naivety.

"Growing up from the age of five, singing the national anthem every day of my life, at that point, at the age of 19, I thought I was a (Canadian) citizen. I just totally couldn't believe I wasn't - because my grandmother was a citizen, and my mother is a citizen, my uncles, my aunts are citizens, my grandfather was a citizen. And I just didn't understand how I could not be a citizen. But my mother had applied for citizenship while I was under the care of the Children's Aid Society, when I was 14, because I had run away from home, so I didn't receive it."

Canadian immigration department documents obtained by The Australian cite the view of a department panel in 2002 that it was "not persuaded the prospect (of rehabilitation) are good or even fair", after the incident for which he was arrested, and confirming his deportation order.

The documents show Kuhendrarajah was seized by police with a sawn-off .22 calibre semi-automatic handgun loaded with seven rounds, after having threatened to kill an opponent.

Kuhendrarajah described himself and his former gangmates yesterday as "spoilt brats who didn't have a mind to think for themselves", and claimed they were "used" by the gang leaders to wage power struggles in the city.

The court documents, however, describe him as living in a basement squat with other friends who were linked to kidnappings and assaults, and contain Kuhendrarajah's own admission that he had been involved in "petty crimes with friends" and fights in bars.

Kuhendrarajah was deported in 2003 to Sri Lanka, where he had no family but plenty of money from his wealthy relatives in Canada and London.

There he met his wife, with whom he moved in 2006 to Chennai in India, fearful of ongoing anti-Tamil violence in Sri Lanka.

"Eventually I did start a small business (in Chennai), and I think this is where the Sri Lankan government got the idea that I'm a people-smuggler," he said.

"I did not have an office, but I started a small business where for tours, or anybody that needed a vehicle to rent, I just rented out mine. And whilst doing this I started working in a call centre, because of my good command of English and my knowledge of American lifestyle and American culture. In the call centre in Chennai they loved me, and they were willing to pay me a lot of money. So as time went by I became very well off in India and I had a good life there."

On the understanding that his removal order from Canada lasted only five years, Kuhendrarajah began making plans last year to obtain Sri Lankan passports for his children - his wife gave birth to their third daughter just weeks ago, while he was hiding in Malaysia waiting to board the Lestari Jaya 5, the ill-fated boat that brought him to Australia's attention - and try again to make a North American home.

On their return from India to organise the passports, however, he said he was arrested by Sri Lankan authorities on suspicion of being a Tigers supporter and detained without charge for months.

After being released, he said, and brimming with frustration, he leapt at the opportunity a friend was offering to sail from Malaysia to Australia.

"The plan was for me to get out of the country immediately, and then as soon as my child was born, for them to follow however they could," he said. "I was determined that if I was able to get on to Christmas Island, that I would be able to tell the truth to the UNHCR, and they would be able to understand my situation, understand that I made mistakes when I was young, and it has been years since I left (Canada). My life has changed a lot since then.

"But I am not a Tiger, and I am not a people smuggler. I want to put these people (people smugglers) away as much as anyone does. They may now have cost me my family and my life."

Source: The Australian