Canadian PM takes hard line on Lankan migrants

Canadian PM takes hard line on Lankan migrants

August 18, 2010   07:10 am


A Canadian tribunal on Tuesday ordered continued detention for the first person interviewed in a group of 492 Tamil asylum seekers that reached Vancouverlast week aboard a battered cargo ship.



Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper, citing sovereignty, “significant security concerns” and “increasing” human smuggling for financial gain, said that authorities will screen each of the migrants individually.



“It’s a fundamental exercise of sovereignty and we’re responsible for the security of our borders and the ability to welcome people or not welcome people when they come,” Harper told reporters.



“We’re a land of refuge, but the same time I think that people are concerned when they come not through any normal arrival,” he said. “This leads to significant security concerns.”



The Tamil migrants reached Canada Friday after a 90-day journey aboard the MV Sun Sea, a shabby cargo ship. A male migrant died at sea from an undisclosed illness, police said.



Public Safety Minister Vic Toews warned that the ship may include members of the Tamil Tigers -- a banned terrorist group -- and told reporters that the passengers paid up to 50,000 Canadian dollars for the trip.



The Canada Border Services said all 380 men and 63 women are detained, and 49 children are either with their families or in the care of local social services.



United Nations High Commission for Refugees observers were present as the independent Immigration and Refugee Board began hearings Tuesday to decide whether the Tamils can be released.



A security guard brough in the first migrant to be interviewed -- a woman, who entered wearing handcuffs. She arrived on the ship with her father, mother and a brother, said her lawyer, Eric Purtzki, adding the family has relatives in Canada.



The woman “has relatives in Toronto who are able to act as bondspersons in order to ensure (they) will continue to report and keep in touch” with authorities, Purtzki said.

There are some 200,000 Tamils living in Toronto, Canada’s most populous city, home to the world’s largest Tamil diaspora.



Adjudicator Leeann King said it was too early to consider bonds and ruled that the woman will remain in detention while officials analyze her identity documents.

Twenty-four more migrants were also ordered to remain in custody.



Refugee board spokeswoman Melissa Anderson said the board aimed to hear from the remaining migrants in coming days.



Lawyer Ron Yamauchi of the Canada Border Services Agency said all migrants were found in “fair health.”



Yamauchi said the migrants have received fresh clothes, and are being photographed and fingerprinted. “Documents and personal belongings have been catalogued and we’ve commenced analyzing them,” he said.



Canadian Tamil groups meanwhile continued a public relations campaign on behalf of the migrants.



Canadians on talk shows and online forums widely accuse the asylum seekers of jumping the queue before migrants making formal applications, and of taking advantage of Canada’s welcoming refugee policies, AFP reports.

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