Advocates call for release of Sri Lankan immigrants

Posted by admin on Oct 25th, 2009

By Cassidy Olivier, The Province. October 25, 2009

A coalition of community organizations, faith-based groups, refugee rights advocates and lawyers rally in support of Sri Lanka refugees in Vancouver on Friday. The immigrants were discovered a week ago after illegally entering Canadian waters aboard the ship Ocean Lady. Advocacy groups speaking on behalf of 76 Sri Lankan refugee claimants are warning against “unsubstantiated” claims surrounding the detained men’s backgrounds and alleged involvement with terrorist organizations. The men, seized Oct. 17 from a dilapidated ocean freighter off B.C.’s coast, remain at the Fraser Regional Correctional Centre in Maple Ridge.

The advocacy groups — including the Canadian Tamil Congress and the watchdog group No One Is Illegal — are calling for the immediate release of the men, believed to be ethnic Tamils.

“They have been detained now for approximately one week and that is incredibly concerning, given the fact they are applying for refugee status and continue to be criminalized under our immigration and detention systems,” Harsha Walia of No One Is Illegal said Friday.

Under the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act, the Canada Border Services Agency is required to bring a person under detention before the immigration review board within 48 hours. If their detention continues, they are required to reappear before the board within seven days. Continued reviews then proceed on 30-day intervals for those who remain detained.

One of the men, 26-year-old Kartheepan Manickavasagar, has been identified in one news report as a member of the Tamil Tigers — a rebel group recognized as a terrorist organization by Ottawa.

Walia, however, cautioned that such allegations remain unfounded. To date, the only source of such information has come from the Sri Lankan government, she said.

Until May, Sri Lanka was locked in a 25-year-old civil war between government forces and Tamil Tiger guerrillas. The rebels lost. An estimated 280,000 Sri Lankans remain displaced as a result of the conflict.

Sue Nathan of the Canadian Tamil Congress said Friday she fears for the safety of the asylum seekers should their refugee applications be declined and they are forced to return home.

“If these men are sent back, they will definitely, definitely face persecution,” Nathan said. “They will disappear. They will face death.”

As of Friday, all claimants had appeared before the review board. One was released Wednesday.

— with Canwest News Service file

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