Detention hearing detains two Tamil migrants

Posted by admin on Oct 21st, 2009

By Kelly Sinoski and Amy O’Brian, Vancouver Sun, October 21, 2009

Two of 76 asylum-seekers apprehended on a rusty ship on the weekend should continue to be detained because of fears they won’t reappear if released, an immigration review board member ordered Tuesday. The detention hearing was the first to be held since the 76 men, believed to be Tamils from Sri Lanka, were detained on the weekend. Hearings for the remaining 74 have not yet been scheduled.

Board member Leeann King’s order for the continued detention of the two followed a report by Kamal Gill, a representative of Immigration Minister Jason Kenney. Gill said the Canada Border Services Agency has been unable to complete its examination of all 76 migrants, including the two men.

The 76 have been held at the Fraser Regional Correctional facility since the Canada Border Services Agency intercepted their vessel at Ogden Point, off Vancouver Island.

Gill said while all the migrants have been fingerprinted and photographed, details around their arrival in Canada remain “sketchy.” Not only did they arrive here in an unconventional manner, she said, but the CBSA does not know what documents they have or where the boat originated.

The two men who were the focus of Tuesday’s hearing said they will apply for refugee status in Canada and did not seek to be released.

“I’m satisfied if they were released at this current time with no alternatives to detention they would have no motivation to appear for further examination in the minister’s timeframe,” King said.

King ruled the detention hearing would be open to the public after the media argued it would violate press freedom to prohibit reporters from attending.

However, she ordered a publication ban on any information that may identify the men or their families, including their names, ages, date of birth and any photographic images.

“Any potential risk to the persons concerned can be overcome by other measures that allow the public access to the hearings but protect the identity of the individuals involved,” she said.

Lawyers representing the two men had opposed the media request, saying their clients fear it will put their life, liberty and security at risk.

Immigration lawyer Larry Smeets, one of several lawyers representing the men, said while he supports the media request in principle, he had to oppose it.

He said one of his clients has already had family members killed, while others have alleged beatings by police officers and other officials in Sri Lanka. Others fear further retribution if their identities are revealed.

“In our view, private proceedings are necessary,” he said. “One of these men is really concerned his life, liberty and security will be endangered.”

The media was only granted access to Tuesday’s detention review, heard in a teleconference. Media outlets will have to apply to the IRB for the opening of the detention review hearings for the other 74 migrants.

Meanwhile, the Canadian Tamil Congress on Tuesday made a public plea for fair and legal process for the 76 asylum-seekers.

“These people have not had full access to legal counsel,” said Gary Anandasangaree, a Toronto-based lawyer working for the CTC. “They should have access to fair process.”

Anandasangaree said he has not been able to see or speak to any of the 76 men, but he provided a bleak description of the conditions in Sri Lanka from which he believes they are trying to escape.

He described jail-like camps where 300,000 Tamils are held in close quarters, some without access to clean water or proper meals. He said rape is a regular occurrence in the camps and flooding happens frequently during monsoon season.

“The conditions for Tamils have gone from bad to worse,” he said.

“If these people go back [to Sri Lanka], they would most certainly face torture, if not death or disappearance.”

Roy Ratnavel fled Sri Lanka 21 years ago, landing in Canada as a 19-year-old refugee with no money, barely any English in his vocabulary, and no family around him. He fled, he said, because he was persecuted for simply being a young Tamil male.

“I was put in jail for three months, only because I was 16 and a Tamil,” he said.

Two days after arriving in Canada, his father was shot dead in front of his mother.

“I could have been next,” he said.

Today, Ratnavel describes himself as a successful businessman.

Sri Lankan refugees have one of the highest acceptance rates in Canada with 93 per cent of claims in the past nine months accepted.

The recently ended war in Sri Lanka between the government and Tamil Tiger rebels left as many as 100,000 people in the country dead and forced hundreds of thousands of minority Tamils into refugee camps.

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