Canadian immigration officials finding out if Tamil Tigers were aboard
14th August 2010: Soon after the Canadian Navy and Coast Guard intercepted a ship off the coast of British Columbia, the Canadian immigration officials are trying to establish whether any of them is a militant from the Tamil Tiger group regarded a terrorist organisation by Canada.
The entire exercise of identifying each of the 490 Tamils aboard the ship is expected to take months.
Public safety minister Vic Toews told media some of the ship’s 490 passengers are “suspected human smugglers and terrorists”, even as several members of the Tamil community in Canada have refuted the assertions that the passengers are linked to the Tamil Tigers or Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam.
The Tamil Tigers are alleged to be a militant group fighting for a Tamil homeland in Sri Lanka. They were defeated by the military in May 2009.
The passengers are believed to be have spent three months at sea. It reportedly crossed the Pacific after being turned away from Australia.
A lawyer with the Canadian Tamil Congress, Gary Anandasangaree, expressed surprise at the number of passengers the small ship measuring 194ft (59m) was carrying. It clearly gives an idea of the conditions inside — very cramped, he said.
The Canadian authorities have been tracking the ship, MV Sun Sea, ever since it set sail from Sri Lanka.
The ship reached Canadian waters on Friday and was taken to a British Columbia navy base, while border officials waited to remove the passengers.
Toews initially indicated the Royal Canadian Mounted Police had boarded the ship. But the prime minister’s office said later the vessel was being escorted to a naval base near Victoria, British Columbia.
Tents were pitched at the base over the past few days and a large force of police officers and immigration officials gathered. Jails in British Columbia too were readied.
Canada currently is home to around 300,000 Tamils, but does not accept Tamil Tigers as migrants or refugees.
On the other hand, Toronto-based immigration lawyer Lorne Waldman told the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation (CBC) that the country had no choice but to take the people in.
"Once they’re here, we can determine what we’ll ultimately do with them," he said.
This is not the first time the sea waves have carried the Tamils to the Canadian shores. Last October, a ship carrying 76 Sri Lankan migrants was intercepted in Canadian waters after crossing the Pacific.
The men were immediately detained in jails around Vancouver. Apart from one, all were released shortly afterwards. Some of the passengers claimed paying thousands of dollars for a berth.