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Harper takes aim at human smuggling with cash and equipment for Thai police

Prime Minister Stephen Harper is escorted by his Thai counterpart, Yingluck Shinawatra, as he visits Government House in Bangkok on March 23, 2012.

Sean Kilpatrick/The Canadian Press/Sean Kilpatrick/The Canadian Press

Prime Minister Stephen Harper turned the focus from trade to human smuggling on his last day in Thailand.

His government has set aside $12 million over two years to help detect and prevent human smuggling operations in southeast Asia.

Harper says roughly $7 million of the new fund will go toward projects in Thailand, including communications and navigation equipment for the Royal Thai police force.

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"Thailand is an important partner in efforts to reduce human smuggling and terrorism in Southeast Asia," he said.

"The support being announced today (Saturday) will help the Thai government make the country safer for its citizens and foreign travellers, and ensure it is not used as a conduit for human smuggling."

Mr. Harper suggested the program, known as the Anti-Crime Capacity Building Program, could be eventually expanded elsewhere.

The Conservative government says that Thailand is both a source and a transit point for illegal migrants who want to make Canada their final destination.

Officials to point to the boat carrying roughly 500 Sri Lankan Tamils, which arrived off the B.C. coast in August 2010.

The MV Sun Sea was from Thailand and those aboard claimed refugee status, their transit arranged by a human smuggling ring.

"Several illegal operations have been blocked and boats have been stopped before they can sail for Canada's shores," Mr. Harper said.

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In January, the government re-introduced legislation meant to discourage ships loaded with asylum seekers from arriving off the country's coastlines.

The bill allows Immigration Minister Jason Kenney to designate such claimants as an "irregular arrivals."

That would make them subject to detention for up to a year while their identity is checked and their claims processed.

The initiative also dovetails with ongoing counter-terrorism plans and contains a sprinkling of cash to help Thai authorities respond to chemical, biological, radiological and nuclear threats.

Those issues will get a more thorough airing later in Harper's Asian trip when he meets with 52 other world leaders at a nuclear security summit in Seoul, South Korea.

The new arrangement, which will be funded out of this year's budget and the one to introduced next week, was signed by Foreign Affairs Minister John Baird with the head of the Royal Thai police as part of a security co-operation agreement.

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The remainder of the cash — roughly $5 million — will be spent on training police and immigration officers in Cambodia, Indonesia, Lao People's Democratic Republic, Malaysia, Thailand, and Vietnam.

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