Interviews with stowaways in Halifax to determine their status in Canada

Posted by admin on Apr 24th, 2009

Apr 24, 2009. Canadian Press

HALIFAX, N.S. — Canada Border Services Agency officials were interviewing seven stowaways on Friday trying to determine their identities and whether to deport them or allow them to begin a refugee claim process. Authorities in Halifax have known since Monday that the illegal migrants were making their way to Canada, after they were discovered by the crew of a container ship a day or so out of Antwerp, Belgium. “We were notified by Atlantic Container Lines that they found two individuals on board their vessel,” CBSA spokesperson Jennifer Morrison said Friday.

“So they immediately did a security sweep while the vessel was en route and they found an additional five individuals.”

The ship Atlantic Concert was greeted by a larger search team consisting of public health officials, CBSA agents and the RCMP when it tied up in Halifax on Thursday afternoon.

A second sweep of the container vessel did not turn up any more stowaways.

Morrison said there was good co-operation with the container line that allowed them to be prepared for the ship’s arrival.

“There’s a lot of different scenarios that you have to be prepared for. You certainly don’t work alone in this.”

Morrison would not confirm the nationalities of the seven stowaways but a source familiar with the investigation said the men identified themselves as Moroccans.

The interviews that are being conducted will help determine whether the seven should be detained or allowed to make refugee claims.

“At the time of entry we have to establish their identity, if they’re a danger to health and security to Canadians in general,” said Morrison.

“Based on that interview, we determine whether they should be admitted to Canada or detained further.”

In the event of continued custody, investigators must present their findings to the Immigration and Refugee Board within 48 hours of the arrests.

The process is repeated within seven days and then 30 days.

“A number of things could happen because each case is unique,” said Morrison.

“Those who are found to be eligible to make a (refugee) claim, based on the facts that are presented, are referred to the board for determination. Now, they could also be removed from Canada.”

The lack of legal representation during the initial process is troubling to immigration lawyer Lee Cohen, a director of the Halifax Refugee Clinic which provides pro bono service to claimants who have no other resources.

“They don’t have a right to counsel at this stage of the process and the CBSA people have carte blanche to interview and interrogate with impunity,” said Cohen.

He said it’s “almost a certainty” that these people put their lives at risk in trying to come to Canada and he’s worried that their lack of understanding of Canadian law could work against them.

Cohen said if they don’t say the right things or if they say the wrong things, they might not get access to the refugee determination process.

“They will be asked, ‘Why did you come to Canada?’ and if they reply with, ‘I came to make a better life for myself’ they will almost instantaneously be deemed to be economic migrants as opposed to political refugees,” said Cohen.

Cohen said that type of response, although unhelpful, would still be justified if the claimant came from a country where he was being politically persecuted.

He said it would take an interrogator with a lot of goodwill to probe further to get to the truth of the matter.

“These people will almost certainly be detained and the chances of them getting counsel before next week is very, very small.”

The arrival of stowaways in Halifax is not uncommon.

As many as 30 a year were arriving earlier this decade, according to government statistics.

Thirteen months ago, four men from Algeria made their way into Canada after hiding on a double-decker bus that was transported on a ship that unloaded at the port.

The stowaways managed to get off the ship and elude a guard at a Halifax container terminal.

They then took a taxi to Truro, N.S., – a 105-kilometre trip – before they were arrested at a train station hoping to make their way to Montreal.

Their brief escape attracted national attention, raising tough questions about port security.

Under Canadian law, shipping companies have to pay a minimum deposit of $25,000 if a stowaway disembarks in the country to offset costs that might be incurred by the federal government.

The Atlantic Concert was cleared to leave Halifax on Friday.


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