Hearings Begin For Migrants Arrested Off Canada

Hearings begin for migrants arrested off Canada

October 21, 2009

VANCOUVER, Canada Detention hearings began for two of 76 migrants who were arrested Saturday on a mystery ship off Canada's coast and are believed to be Tamils fleeing Sri Lanka.

Immigration adjudicator Leeann King of Canada's Immigration and Refugee Board ruled late Tuesday that the first two of the migrants to receive hearings will remain in detention and slapped a publication ban on their identities.

But King denied an application filed by lawyers for the migrants that sought to ban the public from all hearings.

The men were detained by police on Friday, after the military seized a mysterious freighter called the “Ocean Lady” off Canada's west coast.

Officials have said they suspect human smuggling in the case, and Canada's government has warned it will crack down on migrants who jump formal refugee and immigration queues to make refugee claims.

“We need to do a much better job of shutting the back door of immigration for those who seek to abuse that asylum system,” Immigration Minister Jason Kenney told The Globe and Mail newspaper.

Detention hearings for the remaining 74 men will be heard throughout the week as soon as logistically possible, Melissa Anderson, spokesperson for the Immigration and Refugee Board, told AFP. She said the two first men have indicated they will make refugee claims.

There has been no official confirmation that the men are Sri Lankan Tamils, but Tamil language interpreters were present at the detention hearings, and some of the migrants are represented by lawyers provided by the Canadian Tamil Congress.

On Tuesday, police spokesman Duncan Pound told reporters that Canadian police have contacted the Sri Lankan government to investigate whether the men have criminal backgrounds.

Sri Lanka's quarter-century civil war ended this spring when the government finally defeating Tamil separatists. Thousands of Tamils remain in refugee camps in the country.

In recent weeks three other ships carrying Tamil migrants fleeing Sri Lanka have been reported off the coasts of Australia, Malaysia and Indonesia.

Canada's government has much at stake in the case according to Benjamin Perrin, a law professor at the University of British Columbia and an expert on human smuggling.

“Canada has a history of providing opportunities for newcomers to Canada,” Perrin told AFP.

But he said the “preferred approach” to take in refugees should be through international agencies that identify people with the greatest need, “not the dangerous, risky high stakes game of making trips across the ocean and claiming refugee status in Canadian waters.”

Under Canadian law migrants are entitled to a first detention hearings soon after their arrest, a second hearing a week later, and hearings each month thereafter.