Tamils seeking asylum in Canada may be traumatized

Tamils seeking asylum in Canada may be traumatized
# 15 August 2010 00:22 (UTC +04:00)
Baku-APA. Hundreds of Tamil asylum seekers from war-ravaged Sri Lanka who spent a grueling three months at sea in the belly of a cramped, ramshackle cargo ship may be traumatized, a lawyer with the Canadian Tamil Congress said Saturday, APA reports quoting news.yahoo.com website.
The ship, carrying 490 refugees, docked Friday near British Columbia’s capital of Victoria on Vancouver Island, 47 miles (75 kilometers) east of Vancouver.
Gary Anandasangaree said the refugees may be experiencing post-traumatic stress disorder following 90 days at sea after fleeing a war-torn country.
"Post-traumatic stress disorder is not easy to treat. It’s not like a broken arm," he said. "Imagine if you were a kid on that ship and you don’t have your parents."
The Tamil Tigers, also known as the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam, sought an independent state, claiming decades of discrimination by Sri Lanka’s Sinhalese majority. The conflict killed more than 80,000 people and ended after a massive government operation against the Tigers.
While the conflict ended in May 2009, Tamil leaders in Canada say the ethnic Tamil minority still faces persecution, which is why they are seeking refugee in Canada. The United Nations and some non-governmental organizations have reported people in Sri Lanka are still being abused.
Anandasangaree said the horrors of war and the terrors of the voyage will undoubtedly have left many of the refugees with post-traumatic stress disorder, which will be further impacted by claims by the Canadian government that some of these migrants maybe terrorists.
Canada’s Public Safety Minister Vic Toews said he has no doubt there was illegal activity, and maybe terrorists, onboard the ship, suggesting the rebel Tamil Tigers were smuggling people into Canada, home to the largest Tamil community outside Sri Lanka and India. Canada labeled the Tamil Tigers a terrorist group in 2006.
Canadian officials say they are trying to determine whether any of the people on the vessel are members of the Tigers.
As a signatory to the UN Convention on Refugees, Canada must process all refugee claimants who manage to reach Canadian soil.
"All individuals will be processed in accordance with Canadian law, which involves an examination, the taking of fingerprints and photographs, and security and criminal checks," said border services executive director Rob Johnston.
The Thai-flagged MV Sun Sea reportedly approached Australia a few months ago but was either turned away or feared it wouldn’t be allowed to dock and sailed toward Canada, where about 300,000 Tamils live.
The ship was boarded by Canadian security officials late Thursday and brought to the military port on the outskirts of British Columbia.
Officials weren’t yet able to say what the conditions were like during the journey, or provide a breakdown of how many children and women there are. Authorities said the initial examinations would take 48 to 72 hours.
Anandasangaree said eight to 12 refugees were taken to a Victoria hospital Friday to be examined, among them two pregnant women and a one-year-old child. He did not know what their condition was or what they were being examined for.
Dean Purdy, a Canadian jail union spokesman, said the asylum seekers were being transferred Saturday morning from dockside to a Vancouver Island jail.
He said the migrants will be moved to prisons in Maple Ridge, 28 miles (45 kilometers) outside Vancouver, in the coming days.
Purdy said the prisons are already overcrowded.
"This could turn a pressure cooker into turmoil," he said.
Anandasangaree said more than 100 Canadian Tamil families have contacted his organization, believing family members may have come off the boat.
"They don’t know for sure but people are so desperate (to find their family members)," he said.
But he said all of the migrants have disembarked and they’re safe, have had a warm meal and a proper shower.
Anandasangaree hoped he would be able to start meeting with the immigrants later Saturday.
He expects security for those meetings will be tight.
"It’s too emotional," he said. "They need to consult counsel before they say anything."
Canadian immigration lawyer Lorne Waldman said detention reviews are expected to begin in Vancouver on Monday for the children on the boat. Detention reviews are the first part of the refugee claim process in Canada.
He said British Columbia’s Tamil community is preparing to take those children into their homes.
"For the children, I’m sure it’s a totally traumatic experience," he said.
He said efforts will be made to keep children with their mothers. It remains unclear if any unaccompanied children were on the ship, he said.
Detention reviews for the adults are expected to take place in Maple Ridge.