Let Tamils into Canada, advocates say

Posted by admin on Aug 12th, 2010

Thu Aug 12 2010, Toronto Star

Tamil refugees are not jumping the immigration queue but are fleeing terrible human rights violations, a top Toronto immigration lawyer said at a news conference on Thursday. “International aid agencies have reported that even though the war is over, there are brazen human rights violations in Sri Lanka,” said Lorne Waldman. “They are not jumping any queue but fleeing in rickety boats for their lives.” “Immigration law recognizes people’s right to apply for asylum. It’s different from other categories of immigrants,” he said. “Some people come by land, others fly in and some by boat.

“These people are getting spectacular attention but the fact is they are 0.1 per cent of total refugees who apply for asylum in Canada every year,” said Waldman, who represents about 25 of the 76 Tamils who arrived 10 months earlier, also by boat.

He was speaking just ahead of the expected arrival of a boat carrying hundreds of Tamil refugees at Victoria.

The MV Sun Sea, believed to be carrying as many as 500 Tamil migrants, has been tracked off the western most tip of Vancouver Island.

A ship-tracking website shows the MV Sun Sea, under its original name of Harin Panich and registered in Thailand, near Clayoquot near the fishing village of Ucluelet this morning.

All morning, RCMP vessels and Canadian navy vessels have been gathering and leaving a Victoria military base in preparation for the boat’s arrival, projected sometime Thursday evening or early Friday morning.

Public Safety Minister Vic Toews, whose ministry is now the lead agency on preparations for the boat’s arrival, is expected to arrive in Victoria later Thursday. The MV Sun Sea is expected to be escorted into Victoria accompanied by the Canadian Navy, Coast Guard and the RCMP.

Many of the migrants on board the ship are believed to be ill after nearly five months at sea. Initial estimates were that 200 migrants originally from Sri Lanka were on the vessel, but health officials and correctional services authorities who are to hospitalize and house the migrants have been told to expect closer to 300 to 500 arrivals.

The coalition of Tamil organizations speaking in Toronto Thursday appealed to the Canadian government to treat the migrants fairly.

“These refugees are fleeing persecution from their own government,” said Todd Ross of Canadian Human Rights Voice.

“The Canadian government should not forget that tens of thousands of Tamils have already been granted asylum in Canada as they were found to be victims of persecution at the hands of the Sri Lankan government,” he said.

About 30,000 people apply for asylum in Canada every year.

A closed ward at a Victoria hospital is being prepared for the migrants, who are believed to have contracted tuberculosis during the long sea voyage, the Star reported Thursday.

Two sources told the Star’s Petti Fong that it’s unclear how many of the up to 500 Tamils on the ship are sick with TB. One source said a number are very sick.

All will undergo a rigorous health examination when the ship reaches the B.C. coast.

All of the 76 Sri Lankan migrants who arrived in Canada last October were detained by Canada Border Services but eventually released after being investigated for connections to the banned Tamil Tigers. Most now live in Toronto, where the Tamil community is estimated to be 200,000.

On Wednesday, the Sri Lankan government opened public hearings into the country’s civil war that ended in May, 2009. The United Nations says at least 7,000 civilians were killed in the last five months before the war ended when government forces finally crushed ethnic Tamil rebels who had been fighting for an independent state for a quarter-century.

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