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Public Safety Minister Vic Toews and Immigration Minister Jason Kenney Minister announce measures to crack down on human smuggling at an Ottawa news conference on June 16, 2011.

FRED CHARTRAND/The Canadian Press

The Canadian government has intervened to thwart the plans of about 150 Sri Lankans preparing to illegally migrate to Canada, The Globe and Mail has learned.

At least 148 Sri Lankans were arrested in late May in the African republic of Benin, where they were massing before boarding a ship for Canada.

The Canadian government, which has pledged stronger efforts to stop illegal migrant ships before they reach Canada, worked with the government of Sri Lanka to interdict the group in Benin.

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The would-be migrants were deported back to Sri Lanka and arrived there Thursday, according to The Daily Mirror newspaper in Colombo, Sri Lanka.

Immigration Minister Jason Kenney's office celebrated the thwarted effort to smuggle humans into Canada.

"Our Conservative government is sending a strong message to these despicable criminals who think Canada is the world's doormat: We are on to you, we will catch you, and we will punish you," Kenney spokesman Alexis Pavlich said.

Prime Minister Stephen Harper's government was prompted to take a tougher line against human smuggling after hundreds of Sri Lankan refugee claimants were shipped to Canadian shores in recent years by Southeast Asian-based organizers.

In August of 2010, the MV Sun Sea brought 497 Tamils to Canada. In October 2009 the MV Ocean Lady ferried 76 Sri Lankan asylum seekers here.

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