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Tamil asylum seekers in good health
Canada investigating whether the people on the ship from Sri Lanka had Tamil Tiger links.
Last Modified: 15 Aug 2010 09:24 GMT
Canadian Tamils have urged officials to allow the asylum seekers to stay [Reuters]

Hundreds of Sri Lankan Tamil asylum seekers who landed in Canada after being at sea for three months are in good condition, Canadian officials said.

At least 450 Tamils reached Vancouver Island in British Columbia last week on the Thai-flagged MV Sun Sea cargo ship.

Some of the 350 men, 50 women, and 50 children from the ship were being transferred from the dockside to a jail on Saturday before detention reviews begin in the coming days to decide their asylum status.

A Canadian official suspected it to be a human smuggling operation possibly organised by Tamil Tiger separatists.

"This isn't any old sailing boat," Vic Toews, Canada's public safety minister, told CTV television. "The evidence continues to suggest that this is the work of a criminal enterprise.

"The Sun Sea itself was modified in order to maximise the number of persons and increase the profits in that way. For example it was modified with a sanitation system that would never have been installed in a vessel of this size," Toews said.

"I personally did not see anybody who looked like they had been through a very harrowing experience"

Rob Johston,
executive director of Canadian Border Services

The Tamil Tiger group, which is also known as the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam, fought for years for an independent state for the Indian Ocean island's Tamil minority before being defeated by government forces in May 2009.

Canada considers the Tamil Tigers to be a "terrorist" group.

Tracey Rook, an inspector with the Royal Canadian Mounted Police, said officers were working with Canadian and foreign intelligence agencies to investigate whether the people on the ship were connected to the Tamil Tigers.

She also said that "no weapons have been found" during a search of the vessel.

Officials said some of the would-be refugees were nauseous and dehydrated after being taken off the ship near Victoria on Vancouver Island on Friday, but most were in good spirits.

"The people were in fairly good health," Rob Johnston, the executive director of the Canadian Border Services, said.

"They were very co-operative. They were communicative ... I personally did not see anybody who looked like they had been through a very harrowing experience."

'Clean and organised'

Johnston said that conditions onboard the vessel were much better than had been feared, with hammocks for sleeping and separate eating areas. 

"...it was relatively clean and organised. A system had been developed to dispose of waste and garbage," he said.

There was food and water found on the ship, including bags of rice and dried fish.

Sri Lanka's high commissioner to Canada has asked the country to reject their refugee status due their alleged links to the separatist movement.

Chitranganee Wagiswara said that the ship's captain, a man named "Vinod", is a known Tiger and smuggled arms for the group.

She said that the Tamil Tigers could be trying to regroup in Canada after their defeat.

Canadian Tamils have urged authorities to accept the asylum seekers, saying that the minority group faces continued discrimination at the hands of the majority Sinhalese.

Krisna Saravanamuttu, the spokesman for the National Council of Canadian Tamils, said "these people are fleeing from persecution and they must be treated with compassion".

Canada is home to about 300,000 Tamils, the largest Tamil community outside Sri Lanka and India.

Source:
Agencies
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