Tamil migrants still in custody

Majority of asylum seekers on MV Sun Sea cleared to pursue refugee claims



Eleven Tamil men from Sri Lanka who arrived in Canada on rickety freighter remain incarcerated in a Maple Ridge prison almost a year after the ship docked.

The federal government alleges most of the men still in jail were part of the crew on the MV Sun Sea, a rusty 59-metre-long cargo ship that carried 492 Tamil asylum seekers to Victoria last August.

Melissa Anderson, with the Immigration and Refugee Protection Board, said most passengers have been cleared to proceed with their refugee claims.

So far, four of the Sun Sea passengers have been ordered deported after being found to be members of the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam, which Canada considers a terrorist organization.

Obliterated by the army in 2009, the Tigers fought a 30-year-long civil war to create an independent state in northern Sri Lanka.

David Poopalapillai, a spokesperson for the Canadian Tamil Congress, which has helped many of the Sun Sea migrants adjust to life in Canada, said many remain in Metro Vancouver, have acquired work permits, have jobs and their children are in school.

“The only thing that they are waiting for now is for their refugee claims to be heard. But that will take a long time. They are settling down in this country and doing pretty well,” he added.

Two weeks ago, Mounties announced four crew members from the Ocean Lady, another ship carrying Tamils that arrived in Canada in 2009, had been arrested and charged with human smuggling.

The federal government, meanwhile, reintroduced a bill that cracks down on human smuggling. It drew staunch criticism from opposition parties last fall.

The bill makes it mandatory to detain people who arrive in Canada in an irregular manner for up to one year or until a decision is delivered by the Immigration and Refugee Board, whichever comes first.

It prevents people from applying for permanent resident status for five years and also prevents them from sponsoring family members for five years.

In a press release last week, Randy Kamp, MP for Pitt Meadows-Maple Ridge-Mission, announced his support for Bill C-4.

“I am proud to back this important legislation,” Kamp said. “During the last election campaign and at the town hall meeting we held earlier this year, the people of Pitt Meadows-Maple Ridge-Mission made it clear that they want our government to take action to put an end to human smuggling. I am happy to be part of a government that is delivering on its commitments.”