Maple Ridge Prisons Prepare For 200 Tamil Refugees From Sri Lanka

Maple Ridge prisons prepare for 200 Tamil refugees from Sri Lanka

By Todd Coyne
Vancouver Sun
August 11, 2010

Two prisons in Maple Ridge have been prepared to receive an estimated 200 Tamil migrants expected to reach B.C. waters any day.

But the Canadian Tamil Congress and a Tamil man who migrated to B.C. by boat in 2009 are urging the public not to label those on board the ship as anything other than asylum-seeking refugees.

Lisa Monette, spokeswoman for the Department of Foreign Affairs and International Trade, said Tuesday that her office is responding to “press reports suggesting that a vessel has departed South East Asian waters” for British Columbia, but said she could not comment on either the boat's location or the government's plan with respect to such “illegal migrant-smuggling ships.”

Meanwhile, Maple Ridge district spokesman John Leeburn said Tuesday that wardens at Fraser Regional Corrections Centre and Alouette Correctional Centre for Women were told last week to prepare to receive Tamil migrants thought to be aboard the MV Sun Sea, the Sri Lankan ship reportedly headed for the B.C. coast.

Leeburn said the centres to were told to prepare space for “somewhere in the order of 80 females and somewhere in the order of 100 males.”

In October 2009, the same prisons were used to house 76 Tamil men who arrived in Victoria aboard the migrant vessel MV Ocean Lady.

One of those men, who asked not to be identified other than through his immigration lawyer, Sam Nagendra of Robert Blanshay Associates in Toronto, recalled his 2009 detention at the Fraser Regional centre.

“When we got on the boat, we all thought we were going towards Australia,” said the man, described by his translator as in his early 20s.

Only when they were far from Sri Lankan shores did they find out they were headed for Canada, he said.

After processing by the Canada Border Services Agency in Victoria, the man remembered being taken to the Fraser regional centre where the Tamils were housed, two men to a cell. He said that although he did not expect to be held in jail for so long, his treatment by Canadian authorities was better than how Tamils were treated in Sri Lanka, comparing his experience there to life in a “concentration camp.”

David Poopalapillai of the Canadian Tamil Congress said the Canadian government must recognize that most Tamil migrants are fleeing for their lives from Sri Lankan society, despite never supporting the Tamil Tigers.

“We understand that Canadian security is paramount to everything, including Tamil Canadians,” he said. “At the same time, we are cautioning our government and our fellow Canadians to please reserve judgment until we hear from the people on-board.”

The Foreign Affairs Department, the CBSA, the RCMP and Canadian Coast Guard could not confirm the whereabouts of the ship on Tuesday.