MV Sun Sea: Tamils wandering the oceans
Image: The Jaya Lestari 5, moored in the harbour of Merak, Indonesia (click for larger version)
There's a boat wandering across the world's oceans. There are reports that during June 2010, just at the start of the Federal election campaign, Australian authorities, when reports came through it was on its way to Australia, boarded the ship and told the captain to move on and 'bugger off' - in the underlying spirit of "sorry folks, we have an election on".
According to the Washington Post, "its captain determined that Australia's navy and coast guard would prevent it from landing" and the Toronto Star claims that the boat had previously been "turned away by Thai and Australian authorities". On Canada's television A-News (video clip below), claims are expressed that the vessel was turned away by Australia.
According to us it's likely they turn out to be Sri Lankan refugees, but that's not everyone's view. Reports have sensationalised the vessel and its passengers because of their 'suspected links' to the Tamil Tigers, the LTTE.
A Sydney Morning Herald blog did its bit to vilify the passengers, asserting 'links to the Tamil Tigers', intentionally setting up the notion of terrorists amongst the passengers. Sri Lankan government officials ramped up their rhetoric around the same notion, warning Australia against the vessel - reported by The Australian.
Refusing assistance to refugee boats regrettably is nothing new; in fact, many Jews fleeing the Nazi regime by boat found themselves subject to callous acts of refusal to land. See the story of the St Louis and other boats from that time on our website here. Regardless of the changes now that the world has the United Nations Refugee Convention, we see that time and again, especially in a period when one particular population group seeking refuge has not yet become 'established' by the international community as a group in need of protection against persecution, wholesale abandonment, hatred and vilification, presumptions of 'guilt before innocence' liberally flourish in the international press.
In 1978 former PM Malcolm Fraser and his immigration minister Michael MacKellar practised wholesale rejection of the thousands of passengers on the Hai Hong, the Sky Luck, the Tung An and the Huey Fong, and stubbornly refused to assist with their resettlement. They left the work of reception and resettlement of the passengers to countries like the USA, Canada, France and Malaysia.
More recently, in 2001 former PM John Howard escalated the issue of those rescued by MV Tampa and in 2009 former PM Kevin Rudd refused to assist Sri Lankans rescued by the Oceanic Viking, instead sending them to Indonesia.
What's on this page
Below is the growing story of the vessel, which was - in early August 2010 - sailing to Canada. It starts with the Canadian TV News item, before we give space to human rights lawyer Greg Barns, who questions the credibility of Sri Lankan sources. Barns is followed by an opinion article by Tamil advocate Satheesan Kumaaran, before several media reports are presented as they were published.
UPDATE: The ship arrived in Canada on August 14, 2010. Updates have been added to this page, see below
Project SafeCom Media
17 April 2010: Labor compassion and decency freezes over in Election Hell - Some had expected it sooner, but finally Labor has buckled under the weight of the attack dogs. In a joint and televised joint press conference by Stephen Smith (Foreign Affairs), Chris Evans (Immigration) and Brendan O'Connor (Home Affairs) - a sad affair where they resembled The Three Stooges - they announced Canberra's Big Freeze.
8 November 2009: Kevin Rudd, stuck and becalmed in Merak - Australia's Prime Minister dreams of an Indonesian Solution that fails within a week. Rudd may have made 'that phone call' to President Bambang Yudhoyono, promising even more funding 'to stop the boats' before they would arrive in Australian waters, but he had not counted on local resistance and to fury from Australia and the rest of the world..
21 September 2009: Seeking asylum: Non-protection horrors in Indonesia - An expose of media debate and coverage of the rapidly detoriorating warehousing situation in Indonesia, sponsored by the Rudd government - where the International Organisation for Migration, UNHCR Jakarta and the Australian and Indonesian government all 'assist' to wreck the lives of thousands who seek protection and a better life in Australia.
Click the links below to jump down to the articles and items on this page with the same title.
Victoria A-News, Canada: Reports of more Tamil migrant ships questioned
Listen to Sri Lankan government on asylum seekers? Not a smart move
One of the controversial claims made about Sri Lankan asylum seekers is that they contain among their number people with backgrounds in terrorism. As recently as June 21 The Australian reported that the Sri Lankan High Commissioner to Australia Senaka Walgampaya was warning of a boatload of asylum seekers heading to our shores with Tamil Tiger members on board. But such claims should be taken with a grain of salt, if a Canadian experience made public over the weekend is any guide.
On July 10 the Vancouver Sun reported that the Canadian Border Security Agency had misled the public about a group of 25 male Tamil asylum seekers it detained in October last year by saying they were members of the Tamil Tigers. The Vancouver Sun had obtained a CBSA report written in January this year, which argued the asylum seekers' sole purpose in coming to Canada was to establish a cell of the Tamil Tigers. "Movement of a large number of high-value combatants and intelligence officers aboard Ocean Lady may be part of an effort by surviving members of the group to reconstitute from a base of operations overseas in order to renew resistance to ... Sri Lanka," the report said.
But when the asylum seekers' cases came before the Canadian Immigration and Refugee Board in January, the CBSA suddenly dropped its claims and did not argue against the mens' release from detention. The men were released from detention under strict conditions.
This is because the CBSA had no evidence to support its case. After the Vancouver Sun asked the CBSA a series of questions about the matter, it replied last Thursday in a statement that admitted it had no evidence to support their claim which had cost the men three months loss of liberty.
"After a number of weeks of continued detention it became clear that unless CBSA was able to provide further specific information concerning inadmissibility with respect to each individual case, the IRB would order release," CBSA spokeswoman Shakila Manzoor wrote. "With no such information available, CBSA was not in a position to substantiate arguments for continued detention and the IRB began ordering release," Manzoor noted.
As the mens' lawyer Doug Cannon pointed out the CBSA "identified a group of people and raised a red flag, kept them in custody for several months and then stepped back from that and essentially said: 'Never mind'."
One question that arises from this case is who told the CBSA that the men were members of the Tamil Tigers? Was it a Sri Lankan government official such as in the case in The Australian's June 21 report?
It would be very unwise for Canadian or Australian security agencies to not test independently the veracity of anything they are told publicly or privately by the Sri Lankan government, given its track record in false accusations, show trials and wrongful detentions, something that is still happening, according to the UNHCR's most recent assessment of the country.
But the major lesson from this Canadian case is that the secrecy that surrounds border protection and security agencies inevitably means that there is little public scrutiny of their actions against individuals. After all, if it had not been for the media in the Vancouver case, no one would ever have known about the wrongful detention of 25 Sri Lankan asylum seekers.
Tarnishing image of refugees as terrorists is an injustice to humanity
Tarnishing the image of genuine asylum seekers with the same brush used to expose terrorists is just a ploy to reject them, with no consideration of their dire situation as persecuted persons. After spending weeks on the high seas, facing the dangers of such perilous travel on the oceans in search of protection to try to escape persecution and oppression in their own states, the Tamils flee Sri Lanka. However, the host countries tend to reject these genuine refugees, branding them as terrorists. This is a shame to humanity.
In this paper we are in no way holding a brief for international people smugglers both from Sri Lanka and of other nationalities, who prey on the desperation of the refugees. They should be dealt with in the severest manner possible. The question we appreciate is how they can do this, but that is not to say that genuine refugees should be denied access. There is the recent case of the people smuggler called Alex, having jumped ship and escaped. This makes it difficult for genuine refugees.
The so-called defeat of the LTTE in May 2009 has created an exodus of refugees from the shores of Sri Lanka. The Tamils, who have been held in detention centers with fist-tight security of the Sri Lankan armed forces with daily tortures and denial of fundamental rights, have been escaping the centers to seek protection. Also, others who were already released but live in their relative's homes or temporary shelters, risk their lives. They fear they will get arrested by the security forces again. But, despite the UN agencies' reports about the plights of the Tamil civilians on the island, some members of the international community refuse to hear of their plights.
Since 1983, Tamil refugees have been seeking new homes to protect their lives and that of their families in foreign climates. It is common knowledge that during the last months of the Sri Lankan war against the LTTE, with the war crimes and the genocide at least 40,000 Tamil civilians killed leaving their near relatives destitute, more than 300,000 Tamils were incarcerated, still with no homes to go to. At least 10,000 suspected LTTE militants have been summarily executed with their immediate relatives left in the lurch.
Tamils would not have risked their lives in the seas if they were allowed to live in peace with freedom in their homeland. They have no choice but to seek out to western countries, so that they can experience equality and freedom. These asylum seekers do not reach other countries to exploit their resources or cause harm to the security of these countries. These people are genuine asylum seekers. But - the recent Australian and Canadian events are clear examples that the western countries have a double standard in dealing with the genuine refugees. Recently in the Australian federal Senate Parliament Greens party leader Bob Brown pointed out that there were nearly 400,000 persons of European origin that have been overstaying their visas for years.
The fear is that there are hundreds of Tamil boat people reaching the shores of Australia and Canada who are facing hardships despite their genuine claims. The Australian government is negotiating with East Timor and Indonesia to accommodate the Tamil refugees, as well as sending back the refugees who are detained on Christmas Island with the promise that these refugees will be provided financial aid by the Australian government to start up small businesses back in Sri Lanka, while Canada fears that they will have to face a dilemma of another 200 or more Tamils who have been sailing towards Vancouver.
The Canadian and Australian way of dealing with refugees
An episode that began last October gave a real headache to Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper's government, when 76 innocent Tamil civilians arrived off the coast of Vancouver in the province of British Columbia. The Conservative Party led by Harper has been maintaining anti-Tamil sentiments for quite some time, especially because they were using the Tamil plight as a political tool to discredit the Liberals. Harper, Stockwell Day, and senior Conservatives, were openly tarnishing the image of the Tamils as terrorists. They went on to claim that over 8,000 trained Tamil Tigers were operating out of Canadian soil. After the Conservatives came to power, they toned down their past claims. However they continued their quasi anti-Tamil sentiments.
Of the 76, 25 were detained for months after the Canada Border Services Agency (CBSA) said it had "reasonable grounds" to believe they were terrorists. In fact, the Sri Lankan government alerted the Canadian government that they had evidence that all the 76 asylum seekers were terrorists, and all that of them were senior members of the LTTE. However, all were later released when the CBSA admitted that it had no evidence of terrorist connections.
Of the 414 Tamils processed in Australia, since May 2009, 329 were accorded refugee status. However, the Australian government does not want to accept a greater influx of Tamils, and so the government is planning to set up camps, either in East Timor or Indonesia, under the guise that the Tamil immigrants could be a threat to Australian national security, which has no foundation whatsoever.
In this context another 200 or more Tamils are reportedly sailing through towards British Columbia on the Thai-registered MV Sun Sea. Sri Lankan government officials confirmed the report saying that the ship was seen near Guatamala. Government officials further said that these refugees were leaders of the LTTE, as they were claiming that the 76 people had reached Canadian shore last October.
Legal experts argue that the ships carrying asylum seekers cannot be turned away before they reach Canada's 12-mile. Also, the Marine Transportation Security Act, which facilitates the matter responsible for giving the approval to enter the Canadian waters, mandates the refugees are required to give 96 hours notice before entering territorial waters. If a ship hasn't provided notice, or has been told not to enter the territorial sea, but is sailing resolutely toward it, there is no question - the Canadian enforcement agency can stop it, but it is unlikely to happen as there are several precedent events that have been cited as an example.
One of the precedents is that in 1914, the Japanese-registered Komagata Maru arrived in Vancouver carrying 376 passengers from the Indian State of Punjab. The ship was forced back to India without disembarking on its return to Calcutta. At least 19 of the passengers were shot by police. In 2008, Stephen Harper apologized on behalf of all Canadians for the Komagata Maru incident.
In 1939, the German-registered SS St. Louis arrived in Halifax harbour with more than 900 Jewish asylum-seekers on board, having already been refused landing in both Cuba and the United States. The Canadian government also refused entry, forcing the ship to return to Belgium. More than 200 of the passengers were later murdered by the Nazis. Canada's Citizenship, Immigration and Multiculturalism Minister Jason Kenney referred to the SS St. Louis as an example of how racist attitudes coloured the policies of previous Canadian governments.
Are the Tamil asylum seekers terrorists?
The question is whether these asylum seekers are members of the LTTE. Some of the leading international officials, including the UN's former envoy to Sri Lanka, Mr. Gordon Weiss, have flatly denied the allegation that refugees considered terrorists is nothing but an excuse to turn down their claims for genuine refugee status.
Terrorism Expert and a professor at Australian National University, Dr. Clive Williams, in an interview with The Age newspaper, said that the Sri Lankan government is focusing on the Tamils as terrorists, as they belong to the Tamil community. In this interview, Williams said that an accusation was recently submitted that the Sri Lankan Tamils entering Australia from the year 2008 have links with the LTTE. A major portion of the northern and eastern regions in Sri Lanka were in the control of LTTE, and during that period, most of the people were under their regime. But William pointed out that, as they were under the LTTE's control, they cannot be assumed as LTTE members. William further said he opposed permitting Tamils stained with blood to enter Australia, but according to his knowledge, 99% of Tamils arriving Australia have clear records and they do not have any blood stains.
Former UN spokesman in Sri Lanka, Gordon Weiss, has said: "It's (Sri Lanka's) government is dominated by racist ideologues, who promote the notion of the Sinhalese as a "chosen people." Government death squads have snatched thousands of people from the streets over the years. The country's highest court has explicitly rejected the role of international human rights instruments, in Sri Lanka's affairs. And the government continues to deny that it killed civilians, during the recent war, that there were battlefield executions, that it bombed hospitals, or that there is anything wrong with the sham democratic machinery of the state. The repressive creature of extreme nationalism is alive, and well, in Sri Lanka."
Weiss further said: "It [Colombo] still holds tens of thousands of civilians in internment camps. It shows no sign of instituting a political process to redress the half-century-old grievances of the Tamils and thus remove the causes for any future conflict. And, it shows no sign of seriously investigating allegations that both sides committed war crimes... Colombo broke every guarantee that it gave Ban Ki-moon not to use heavy weapons in civilian areas. Its interests lie in repression, not confession, and it has no interest in potential witnesses reaching these shores."
The UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) in its July 5th, 2010 report said: "In the immediate post-conflict period, there have been allegations of enforced disappearances of persons suspected of LTTE links. Furthermore, the broad powers of arrest and detention under the Prevention of Terrorism Act (PTA) and the Emergency Regulations have reportedly generated considerable controversy around issues such as the arrest and detention of persons suspected of LTTE links, in a number of cases allegedly on limited evidence and often for extended periods. Human rights observers have also expressed concerns regarding the broadly defined offences under the Emergency Regulations, which allow, inter alia, detention without charge for up to 18 months, and use of informal places of detention."
The UNHCR further said: "According to some reports, young Tamil men, particularly those originating from the north and east of the country, may be disproportionately affected by the implementation of security and anti-terrorism measures on account of their suspected affiliation with the LTTE. In light of the foregoing, persons suspected of having links with the LTTE may be at risk on the ground of membership of a particular social group."
Despite the claims of the leading experts, the Sri Lankan government has been trying to tarnish the image of Tamils as terrorists, just as they did at the peak of the war with the LTTE. The situation for the Tamils in the Tamil areas in Sri Lanka is dismal. Reports of murders and kidnappings are on the rise. Unidentified gunmen shoot and kill civilians at gun point and they escape without any apprehension by the law enforcement agencies.
The irony is that the Sri Lankan government, which does not allow the Tamils to live in peace on their homelands, keep hounding them to countries that would allow them refuge, with all kinds of accusations. Thanks to the Sri Lankan government, persecution of the Tamils follows them wherever they go. For example, Palitha Kohonne, once considered a war criminal, is now the Sri Lankan permanent representative to the UN, who has dual citizenship, both in Sri Lanka and Australia, and was an senior employee of the Australian foreign ministry, who often uses his clout with the Australian government to frequently intervene to say that the refugees are not genuine refugees. It is unfortunate that the Australian government should still listen to this racist war criminal, who is a disgrace to the UN, without knowing his antecedents.
The Tamil National Alliance (TNA) parliamentarian, P. Ariyanentran, has said that he has received complaints from the relatives of the detainees that the detainees who were held at Welikkandai detention centre were taken away by the Sri Lankan security forces on grounds that they were being taken to various rehabilitation centers, but later found that there was no information about the whereabouts of these detainees. Also, the high command of the Sri Lankan Defense Ministry has been sending the list of persons, who should be transferred to the different camps. They are now being taken away, but their whereabouts are not known. The relatives fear that these detainees might have been executed by the Sri Lankan security forces.
Despite ignoring the current situation inflicted upon the Tamils in Sri Lanka, the global community is trying to say that the Tamil asylum seekers are terrorists in order to turn down their genuine claim for refugee status. The acknowledgements of Stephen Harper and Jason Kenney, in regard to the Komagata Maru and SS St. Louis cases, are seen as precedents, which should be taken into consideration when dealing with the Tamil refugees. Otherwise, the same fate of the Punjabis and Jews will happen to the Tamils. The summing up of genuine refugees with terrorists is a real danger to humanity, and hence, Canada, Australia, and other countries which respect the concepts of equality and freedom, should go down in history as violators of these aspects of the international law.
The author can be reached at e-mail: satheesan_kumaaran(at)yahoo.com
See also the Tamil Mirror, July 20, 2010
300 Sri Lankan asylum-seekers on the way to Australia
A people-smuggling vessel carrying up to 300 Sri Lankan asylum-seekers, and organised by remnants of the Tamil Tigers, could be on its way to Australia.
Prominent counter-terrorism expert and author Rohan Gunaratna said the venture was being organised by the same Tiger faction responsible for transporting 76 Tamils to Canada on the Ocean Lady last year.
He said the boat, called the MV Sun Sea, was believed to be moored somewhere off the Thai-Vietnamese coast.
"The ship is part of a multinational investigation," Professor Gunaratna told The Australian.
"The venture came to light because of the investigation into Princess Easary or Ocean Lady because it's the same people who are doing the human-smuggling."
Professor Gunaratna's remarks are consistent with an alert issued by the Philippines Coast Guard on May 19.
"A suspected people-smuggling vessel, MV Sun Sea, a general cargo ship, previously known as Harin Panich 19, was last reported to be off Thailand waters at latitude 7 degrees 19 minutes north, longitude 100 degrees 58 minutes east on May 17 2010 . . . no new update was reported on the current location of subject vessel," the alert reads. "In this connection, all ships/watercrafts transiting near the area are advised to be on the lookout for the said vessel and report same to the Philippine Coast Guard."
The Philippines Star also reported late last month that the Thai navy had requested help locating the Sun Sea.
Professor Gunaratna said about 200 Sri Lankans were thought to be on the Sun Sea, which had a capacity of about 300. Only the organisers and the crew are suspected of Tamil Tiger connections.
Reports of the mysterious ship have been reverberating throughout the Sri Lankan community. If it does arrive with a full passenger load, it will be the largest vessel to be intercepted as part of the present wave of asylum boats.
In the past week, The Australian has spoken to a number of sources, including from within the Sri Lankan government, who speak of a large-scale people-smuggling operation suspected to be under way off the Thai-Vietnamese coast.
A spokeswoman for Home Affairs Minister Brendan O'Connor declined to discuss the reports, citing operational reasons.
However, The Australian has confirmed the federal government is aware of the possible operation.
One Australian government source cautioned that it was not uncommon to hear reports of ventures that never materialise.
It is understood the boat has been moored for about a month off Thailand.
It is not clear if the crew plan to sail the boat to Canada or Australia, but it is understood Australia had recently emerged as the favoured destination.
Professor Gunaratna said mechanical concerns meant the boat was more likely to travel to Australia.
Reports of the boat came as Border Protection Command intercepted a boat carrying 35 passengers and two crew southwest of Scott Reef yesterday.
Asylum boat sails away from 'tough' Australia
An asylum boat believed to be owned by the Tamil Tigers has set sail for Canada after organisers decided Australia was too tough a target.
The MV Sun Sea, an ocean-going vessel that until recently was moored off the Thai coast, was originally believed to be headed for Australia.
But counter-terrorism expert and author on the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Elam (LTTE) Rohan Gunaratna said the boat's organisers had since decided they would get a friendlier reception in Canada.
"They see that Australia is tougher than Canada, but certainly these two venues are rated by the LTTE as the two softest countries," Professor Gunaratna told The Australian.
A mechanical problem with the boat was another reason the ship's crew had originally decided to go to Australia rather than risk the longer voyage to Canada, Professor Gunaratna said.
But he said that problem had since been rectified, apparently leaving the crew confident they could manage the trip. Canadian authorities are reportedly monitoring the ship, which is understood to be connected to the Ocean Lady venture, which sailed 76 Sri Lankans to Vancouver last October.
Reports from the Sri Lankan media placed the vessel off Guatemala with more than 200 people on board. The Ocean Lady was subsequently identified as a former gun-running ship for the Tamil Tigers. Traces of explosives were detected and several of the boat's passengers were suspected of having links to the LTTE.
Australian government sources said the Sun Sea has definitely set sail and was believed to be heading for Canada.
News of the boat's voyage came as new figures showed asylum-seekers aboard boats they claimed were at risk of sinking had made at least 10 calls to authorities requesting assistance.
In what the opposition has described as a "programmed response", the figures show asylum-seekers called Customs and Border Protection authorities, the Australian Maritime Safety Authority and even a Northern Territory army barracks asking for help.
Opposition immigration spokesman Scott Morrison likened the situation to a "sausage machine".
"There's a manual on how these things operate," Mr Morrison said. "These guys have a programmed response to every situation, that's how sophisticated the process has become."
200 Tamil Tigers 'sailing to asylum' in Australia
Paul Maley and Samantha Maiden
Sri Lankan officials have warned that a vessel carrying up to 200 asylum-seekers could be headed for Australia.
As Kevin Rudd faces rising internal concern that the issue is hurting Labor, the Prime Minister will today hold a meeting of the full ministry to mark what could be the last parliamentary sitting week before the election, amid rising leadership speculation.
Labor backbenchers said yesterday they had "sent a message" to Mr Rudd's office on asylum-seekers in the past fortnight, and several frontbenchers confirmed it was a live issue in the electorate.
As the Rudd government faces a looming deadline on whether to lift a three-month suspension of Sri Lankan asylum claims, the country's high commissioner to Australia, Senaka Walgampaya, has urged the Prime Minister to extend the freeze.
Australia has previously sought assistance from Indonesia to turn back a boatload of 260 illegal migrants heading for Australia, and successfully repelled the largest boatload attempting to enter Australian waters since the election of the Rudd government in 2007.
The high commissioner said yesterday he had credible information that a boat, believed to be connected to remnants of the Tamil Tigers, had upwards of 200 people on it.
"My information is that there is such a boat," Mr Walgampaya said yesterday.
"Earlier on, the boat was going to Canada; now it is confirmed that they are trying to come to Australia."
Mr Walgampaya also called on the government to extend the freeze on Sri Lankan asylum claims, saying there was evidence it had been effective.
"I would certainly like to continue as it is," he said.
"I think boat arrivals have reduced as a result. If they continued it, that would be good."
On June 10, The Australian reported that the Philippines Coast Guard had in May issued an alert for the MV Sun Sea, formerly known as the Harin Panich 19.
Mr Walgampaya said the venture was being organised by remnants of the Liberation of Tamil Tiger Eelam (Tamil Tigers).
"We are told that the boat itself does not belong to the LTTE but they are people who have links to the LTTE," Mr Walgampaya said.
Ahead of today's ministry meeting in Canberra, three Labor frontbenchers conceded asylum-seekers were an issue in the electorate, and one pointed to the Prime Minister himself telling the ALP caucus the government needed to sell its message better.
"There's a a strongly entrenched debate around asylum-seekers," one frontbencher said.
"People are asking: what is Labor going to do about boatpeople," another Labor MP told The Australian.
"Efforts are being made to get that through to the Prime Minister's office."
Another Labor frontbencher said: "We've all recognised that it's certainly an issue and we certainly need to communicate what we are doing.
"At the moment, there's a misunderstanding that's being whipped up by talkback radio.
"The Prime Minister said that we need to better communicate what we're doing in this area."
The remarks came as outspoken Australian of the Year Patrick McGorry told a World Refugee Day rally in Melbourne that there had been a "failure of leadership" on the issue of asylum-seekers.
"If you ask the right questions, you'll get the right answers from the Australian public and I think they've been led down the wrong track by a failure of leadership," Professor McGorry said.
Abbott says a 'famous victory' is within reach
ABC Radio Current Affairs - PM
But they said cost of living pressures and concerns over asylum seekers were issues of note there.
That last point is something the Opposition is keen to exploit. Its customs spokesman Michael Keenan:
MICHAEL KEENAN: I refer the Prime Minister to reports that a boat carrying 200 asylum seekers suspected to be Tamil Tigers has left Sri Lanka and is heading to Australia.
HARRY JENKINS: Order!
MICHAEL KEENAN: Can the Prime Minister update the House as to the location of the boat, its intended destination and what measures the Government has taken to divert it from Australian waters?
SABRA LANE: You can't quite hear it but there was a lot of whistling during that question. Government MPs say this kind of attack is dog-whistle politics.
KEVIN RUDD: If there are operational matters of concern involving our assets on the high seas, be they customs vessels or the assets of the Royal Australian Navy we do not comment on operational matters. I would have though the honourable member would be aware of that.
Here's new proof on boat people
Sydney Morning Herald
The vessel MV Sun Sea is a classic example of why John Howard's Pacific solution for boat people worked - and why training-wheels PM Gillard is now copying him.
The Sun Sea is now sailing from Thailand to Canada with 200 people on board, seeking a home. At first the plan was to sail to Australia but the crew has reportedly decided that Australia is now "tough" and Canada would give a "friendlier reception".
Tough? The Gillard regime has only just started talking about reintroducing Howard's offshore processing - a Pacific Solution Mark 2 - and already some people-smugglers are having second thoughts. The same way smugglers saw a big green light when the Rudd-Gillard team naively dismantled Howard's original processing system to win the hand-wringer vote in the Kevin07 poll.
But there is another reason why the Sun Sea demonstrates why Australia should be tough about controlling who comes into the country. Reports in the Sri Lankan media claim that several of the 200 passengers are suspected of having links with the Tamil Tigers - terrorists who wreaked havoc in Sri Lanka for years until their surrender last year. Reports suggest that the Sun Sea is actually owned by the Tigers and was previously used for gun-running. Traces of explosives were allegedly detected on board.
They were originally heading for Australia! Do we really need thugs like that sneaking in among genuine refugees? Ahead of asylum-seekers who apply in a legitimate way? Makes you wonder: two other boats arrived in Australia this week. Are they all genuine refugees aboard or are there stooges aboard too?
But even if Australia is now being seen as getting "tough" again, all things are relative. Counter-terrorism expert Rohan Gunaratna says that, despite Gillard's hasty attempts to copy Howard, Australia and Canada "are rated by the Tamil Tigers as the two softest countries". Yes, it will take a long time to drum in the message that was lost in the Rudd-Gillard years: Australia wants to know who is arriving on it shores.
Just for the record, the Tamil Tigers operated as a terrorist organisation from 1976 to 2009 and are credited with inventing the suicide belt. They assassinated former Indian Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi in 1991, and Sri Lankan President Ranasinghe Premadasa in 1993.
The Tigers launched scores of murderous attacks on soldiers and civilians of all ages and genders. They attacked ships carrying medical supplies (October 2008), bombed Catholic churches (December 2008), and even a marathon race in April 2008. That year the FBI called the Tamil Tigers the most dangerous terrorist organisation in the world.
Yeah, just the sort you want floating in to Australia on the high tide. Good luck, Canada.
Sri Lankan refugee ship reached Canada
Editors note: because of suspected English language difficulties by the author (or the translater) the text of this news item has been lightly edited to improve its language flow.
The "Australian News" has published a news item that the "MV Sunshine" ship carrying Sri Lankan refugees, which was travelling in the direction of Canada has now come much closer to Canada.
A debate in regard to this was conducted over the "Australian" radio. A question was raised at the debate regarding this matter, and while replying Canadian International Amnesty Council secretary Alex Nevey said the said refugees, had reached the Canadian territorial waters, and until they reach the Canadian borders they cannot be approached.
The Australian radio compare said, if the ship pass the 20 kilometre zone it would have reached its target. Meanwhile in the context of humanitarian, and in the policy of refugees' security, the refugees cannot be ruled out to a wrong outcome, was mentioned by Amnesty Council Secretary Alex.
Meanwhile while commenting in regard to this, British Colombia University Peace Development and Defence sector Prof. Kenneth Christi said that the arrival of refugees to Canada should be handled with much attentiveness. He said, if Canada handled the refugees intruding to Canada in a soft manner, if more attempts to intrude to Canada, will take place, hence there are possibilities in amending the policy, which is the general opinion. But he said, it is not proper to send back the refugees to their native places.
Reports states the "MV Sunshine ship" carrying 219 Sri lankan refugees and 12 Indian Tamils, is proceeding towards British Colombian town located at Canada. The deserving refugees will be accepted by Australia according to sources.
United Nation Organization's refugees council's regional representative Richard Towle said that after April, the processing for visa granting to the Sri Lankan and Afghanistan refugees in Australia have reduced by a considerable amount. The refugees declared by the UN as refugees will be accepted by the Australian Refugees council, but why the Australian government is not taking any attention in providing them the security visa for which he wanted an explanation.
LTTE ship sighted off US coast
Sunday Observer, Sri Lanka
The vessel carrying over 200 illegal immigrants under the LTTE's human smuggling network is expected to arrive at the Canadian shores within the first week of August, Defence sources said yesterday.
The sources said the ship may arrive at British Columbia (BC) most probably by the first week of August and it is being monitored via satellite by a number of countries.
"There has been a sighting of the ship near Guatemala last week," he said.The Globe and Mail reported on Friday that the US coast guards Pacific division has confirmed a sighting of the suspected ship MV Sun Sea and they have said the ship seems to be heading towards BC.
The MV Sun Sea which was earlier known as the Harin Panich 19 a cargo ship used by the LTTE to smuggle arms, ammunition and explosives from Korea to Sri Lanka during the conflict was first spotted in the Bay of Thailand in April this year. The Ship's captain Vinod, allegedly a hardcore LTTE leader has threatened the Thai Navy when their patrol craft tried to intercept the unidentified vessel.
Intelligence gathered by the Sri Lankan defence officials at the time indicated the ship was heading for the Australian shores and a warning was issued promptly to its counterparts in Australia.
The Aussies heightened their surveillance and put their boarder guards on alert.
Subsequently the International Terrorism Expert Prof. Rohan Gunaratne said the LTTE crew had shifted their destination to Canada perhaps due to the lax attitude the authorities adopted when dealing with the 76 illegal immigrants that came on board Princess Easwary (Ocean Lady), also an ex-arms ship of the LTTE.
Although all the inhabitants of this voyage were arrested immediately by the Canada Border Services Agency and held in detention for three months, their applications are now being processed on a case by case basis.
Foreign Ministry sources said strong LTTE front organisations in Canada were working tirelessly to get these illegal immigrants which include hardcore LTTE members, asylum status. A report from the UN High Commissioner for Refugees early this month highlighted greatly improved security in Sri Lanka and said that Tamils are no longer automatically eligible for asylum.
It is believed that at least 24 LTTE cadres and hardcore leaders fleeing Sri Lanka are onboard MV Sun Sea.
Canadian Foreign Affairs spokesperson Ambra Dickie said it is aware of media reports about the vessel, but was unable to confirm the ship's current whereabouts, the Montreal Gazette reported quoting the Sunday Observer exclusive - the ship was heading for Canada.
Refugee ship could be boarded by US or Canada
Toronto Star, Canada
VANCOUVER -- A cargo ship allegedly carrying more than 200 Tamil refugees is being monitored by U.S. and Canadian officials as it makes its way to the British Columbia coastline after being turned away by Thai and Australian authorities.
An intelligence source have told the Toronto Star that there is a potential for Canadian or American coast guards to board the vessel before it reaches Canadian waters as a way of deterring the vessel from landing.
So far, no one in the Tamil communities in Canada have made contact with any of the migrants supposedly on the vessel, according to Gary Anandasangaree, one of the lawyers representing some of the Tamil migrants who arrived in Victoria by another ship last October.
"The question now is what is going to be the response from the Canadian government and will they request interception before it reaches Canadian waters?" said Anandasangaree.
"From a post-arrival point of view, we've had some recent experience and we'll do what we can to assist the folks. Our bigger concern right now is ensuring those who are on their way are safe and to ensure there's no interception along the way."
David Poopalapillai, national spokesperson for the Canadian Tamil Congress, said Monday that lawyers and aid workers are on standby in the west or prepared to leave for the coast if the vessel arrives in Canada.
"We are very worried these people are putting their lives at risk. We fully understand why they are taking this enormous risk to reach our country's shores," he said.
Poopalapillai said the congress is urging the Canadian government to help end the persecution of Tamils still living in Sri Lanka.
"We don't want people to endanger their lives in this fashion and the only way to stop this is for the international community to work to stop the persecution in Sri Lanka. Otherwise this will be an ongoing thing."
The MV Sun Sea had been spotted in the Bay of Thailand in April and was seen a month later heading toward Australia. It has most recently been spotted leaving the southeast Asian waters, according to Lisa Monette, spokesperson for the department of foreign affairs.
Monette said the Canadian government is following up reports the vessel is potentially heading to Canada.
"The government of Canada's strategic approach with respect to migrant vessels includes efforts abroad that involve stopping illegal migrant-smuggling ships that are destined for Canada at their points of departure," she said in a statement.
According to a report from the Sri Lanka Observer, the MV Sun Sea was earlier known as the Harin Panich and was used to smuggle arms, ammunition and explosives from Korea to Sri Lanka during the 26-year-long civil war between the ethnic minority Tamils and the Sri Lankan government.
U.S. Coast Guard Petty Officer Sondra Kneen, speaking Monday from the Pacific-area headquarters in Alameda, Calif., that few details can be released and officials can say nothing about where the vessel is and what direction it's taking.
Kneen said she cannot release information about whether the vessel has been boarded by Coast Guard authorities at this point.
Until the vessel arrives in territorial waters, it has the freedom to travel in international waters, according to immigration lawyer Narindar Kang, a former immigration judge at the Immigration and Refugee Board of Canada.
"When people have a well-founded fear of persecution, international law requires they be assessed for their claim and be granted refuge," said Kang.
Last October, the Ocean Lady was spotted and escorted by Canadian Coast Guards to a harbour in Victoria, where 76 migrants claiming to be Tamil refugees disembarked and were detained.
Claims filed by those aboard the Ocean Lady are still being heard and nearly all of them are no longer in detention but living in Toronto while waiting for their refugee claims to be processed.
In 1999, cargo ships carrying more than 600 Chinese migrants arrived on the north coast of British Columbia and claimed refugee status. Only two dozen of those claims were granted and nearly half of the migrants who arrived were deported back to China.
Tamil Migrant Ship MV Sun Sea will arrive Canada by Aug 14th
The 59-metre Thailand registered 767 Ton Macgregor type cargo ship "Harin Panich 19", now renamed as MV Sun Sea with over 200 Tamil migrants on board, destined for Canada from Maldives is expected to arrive the Canadian Coast close to Victoria in Province of British Columbia by August 14th but depending on the conditions of high seas of Pacific Ocean it may arrive few days early or few days late.
The vessel was spotted in the Gulf of Thailand by the Philippine Coast Guard in May. The Asian Tribune reported in July that MV Sun Sea was seen near Guatemala heading north towards Canada 10 days ago.
The U.S. Coast Guard Pacific Division based out of San Francisco confirmed a sighting of the MV Sun Sea. "All I can say is that it is carrying the Thai flag and it is believed to be travelling towards British Columbia," Adam Stanton of the Coast Guard's Pacific area public affairs office said, but would not comment on its exact whereabouts. Many aboard the ship are members of the terrorist group Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE).
Movement of a large number of high-value combatants and intelligence officers aboard MV Sun Sea may be part of an effort by surviving members of the LTTE to reconstitute from a base of operations in Canada. The ship is captained by Kamalraj Kandasamy a.k.a Vinod, a senior member of the LTTE who conducted North Korean arms procurement voyages for the LTTE and manned by a 24-member crew.
The LTTE's shipping and procurement staffers are highly skilled. They are masters in clandestine and compartmentalized operations. Today, they want to survive and people smuggling is one of their most lucrative businesses.
The Thailand Navy sea patrols spotted MV Sun Sea, a vessel previously used for gun running, near the Exclusive Economic Zone of the country in April. When the sailors tried to intercept the vessel, 'Captain Vinod' threatened that several illegal immigrants will throw themselves overboard if anyone tried to board his ship.
These are illegal migrants who are trying to come into Canada illegally. This is part of the international activity to smuggle in people. Once the ship enters Canadian waters, a 20 kilometre jurisdiction off the British Columbia coast, it will be protected by the international Refugee Convention and its passengers will be processed as refugees.
The MV Sun Sea have been originally headed for Australia before changing course en route. Australia, which has already processed more than 80 boat-loads of asylum seekers this year, has begun clamping down on suspected people smuggling ships, boarding them on the high seas to turn them away. As a result, Canada has emerged as safe haven for LTTE.
MV Ocean Lady also known as MV Princess Easwary turned up in October 2009 off Canada's British Columbia coast with 76 Tamil asylum seekers from Sri Lanka. The vessel was controlled by the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam. All of the 76 were initially jailed while their lawyers fought terrorism allegations.
But in January 2010, the migrants were released. The Canadian response to MV Ocean Lady was perceived as weak and Canada is seen as an easy target by the Tamil Tigers. As long as MV Sun Sea is on the international high seas and proceeding with peaceful intent, there is no legal framework for inhibiting its journey.
Canadian Navy is the only entity that could stop MV Sun Sea from entering Canadian territorial waters. Canadian Navy cannot board or reroute the ship until it can demonstrate the ship poses a security threat to Canada. Any such decision would have to come at the highest ministerial level. The most important ingredient a government needs to fight terrorism and crime is political will. The political leaders in Canada lack that political will to act. The Canadian Defense Minister Peter Mackay said, his government had made arrangements to care any passengers of MV Sea Sun, who are sick after potentially they have spend months at sea.
There is no war now in Sri Lanka, and this is definitely not a humanitarian exercise. In 1999, cargo ships carrying more than 600 Chinese migrants arrived on the north coast of British Columbia and claimed refugee status. Only two dozen of those claims were granted and nearly half of the migrants who arrived were deported back to China.
Sri Lankan Tamils aim for North America & asylum
By John Pomfret
An estimated 200 asylum seekers from Sri Lanka, including some believed to be members of a group the United States has labeled a terrorist organization, are aboard a ship in the Pacific Ocean heading toward North America, according to U.S. government officials and other sources.
The MV Sun Sea had been destined for Australia but changed course after its captain determined that Australia's navy and coast guard would prevent it from landing. Its current destination is believed to be the west coast of Canada, and it is expected to make landfall mid-month.
"We are aware of the vessel and are monitoring its progress," said Matthew Chandler, a Department of Homeland Security spokesman. "Should an emergency arise, the United States will respond appropriately."
The passengers are believed to include members of the separatist group the Tamil Tigers as well as women and children. Sri Lankan newspaper reports said the ship had passed through the Straits of Malacca and was monitored by the Thai navy before heading east toward North America.
The ship appears to be the second to carry Tamil asylum seekers to North America after last May's collapse of the Tamils' 40-year battle for a separate homeland in Sri Lanka. In October, a ship with 76 Tamils landed at Victoria in British Columbia.
The State Department identifies the Tamil Tigers, also known as the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE), as a terrorist organization. The FBI, in a 2008 posting on its Web site, identified the group as "among the most dangerous and deadly extremists in the world," crediting it with inventing the suicide belt, pioneering the use of women in suicide attacks and killing two world leaders -- something no other terrorist group has done.
The Canadian Tamil Congress, which advocates for Tamil rights, said conditions aboard the ship were poor. "We're not talking the Queen Elizabeth 2 here," David Poopalapillai, a spokesman for the group, said in a telephone interview from Toronto. "These people are putting their lives at enormous risk, but we fully understand why they are taking this deadly voyage. The situation in Sri Lanka is still not normal. Tamils are still being persecuted."
Human rights organizations allege that Sri Lankan troops killed thousands of Tamil civilians last year when they moved to quash the Tamil insurgency. The United Nations is attempting to investigate those claims but has been stymied by demonstrations near U.N. offices in Sri Lanka.
James Clad, former deputy assistant secretary of defense for South and Southeast Asia, said he thought that the boat was part of an attempt by the Tamil Tigers to "create a network again and play the transnational terrorist game."
"I'm not an advocate for sending people back to their deaths, but that is just not happening in Sri Lanka," he said. "I've helped a lot of migrants before, but I know a scam when I see one."
Arrival in Canada: fears, vilification and hope
Victoria A-News, Canada: MV Sun Sea Tamils disembark at Canadian Forces Base Esquimalt
Sri Lankan asylum seekers land in Canada
ABC Online News
Hundreds of Tamils seeking asylum from Sri Lanka have sailed into Canada escorted by authorities.
After several months at sea, the MV Sun Sea cargo ship arrived on western Canada's Vancouver Island surrounded by a naval frigate and police helicopters.
Canadian authorities stood on deck wearing face masks as a precaution.
Buses with blacked-out windows stood ready to transport the 490 migrants to holding jails on the mainland. Victoria General Hospital set up a special room and quarantined ward for any sick migrants, spokeswoman Shannon Marshall said.
The ship's progress has been monitored for weeks, triggering a furor in Canada over whether the boat migrants were jumping the queue while thousands of other applicants await their turn.
Public Security Minister Vic Toews repeatedly vowed that Canada, known for some of the world's most welcoming asylum policies, would not be a "soft target" for human smugglers.
Toews told reporters Thursday that some people aboard the ship are "suspected human smugglers and terrorists" and Canada would prosecute anyone involved in human trafficking, which he called a "despicable crime."
The ship had originally intended to go to Australia before being deterred and heading to Canada, which also has a politically active Tamil community.
Terrorists or civilians? MV Sun Sea passengers face scrutiny in days ahead
Winnipeg Free Press
Vancouver - Even before the Canadian Navy intercepted the MV Sun Sea on its voyage to Vancouver Island, the federal government had labelled some of the hundreds of passengers aboard "suspected human smugglers and terrorists."
Public Safety Minister Vic Toews didn't provide details or sources for his assessment Thursday, though he impressed that prosecution would be coming for proven criminals.
It's a familiar approach.
While it's believed the ship is carrying upwards of 500 Tamils from Sri Lanka on a journey across the Pacific, establishing their identities and reasons for spending months at sea could take months or even years -- especially if the ship charts the same course as the Ocean Lady, a rusty freighter that brought 76 Tamil migrants to British Columbia last October.
When that ship suddenly showed up in Canadian waters, requesting refugee status for its hold, the men were immediately put into detention. They claimed to be civilians fleeing persecution in their homeland, yet 25 were later singled out as potentially having links to the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam, a banned terrorist organization and separatist group that lost a 26-year civil war last year.
Those men's Canadian lawyers were initially told their clients would face secret hearings to argue for their continued incarceration.
But just before the deadline to present its evidence, the Canada Border Services Agency (CBSA) unexpectedly abandoned the plan. All men were released.
The situation with the MV Sun Sea is now unfolding much as before, said Douglas Cannon, a Vancouver immigration lawyer who represents some of the Ocean Lady migrants.
He believes the CBSA, the body investigating the migrants, will respond differently.
"I think that the department will be better organized this time and I'm guessing that they probably already have a list of people that they want to pay close attention to on board this ship," he said.
"They'll be identifying them very early on, they'll be putting their evidentiary packages together and they're likely going to institute secret evidence proceedings much sooner in the process."
A classified report on the October incident, created by the CBSA's Pacific Region Intelligence Division dated to January, the month the men were released, sheds light on officials' thoughts about the threat.
The report says an investigation "established reasonable grounds to believe that one-third of the passengers were active members of the LTTE right up until the defeat in May (2009.)"
It alleged passengers aboard the Ocean Lady were combatants and intelligence officers who were "part of an effort by surviving members of the group to reconstitute from a base of operations overseas in order to renew resistance to the Government of Sri Lanka."
That report was never brought before the Immigration and Refugee Board, the body which decides refugee claims. The IRB was never given reasons why applications for the secrets hearings were withdrawn.
"To me, that is very, very close to abuse of power," Cannon said of the extended custody.
"Allegations (were) made, no evidence produced. Which is why CBSA had to release them all. If you're going to accuse somebody of being a terrorist, you better back it up."
Calls to the CBSA were not returned.
The passengers aboard the ship are likely a mix of both civilians who paid huge sums and Tamil Tigers who will use the cash for their own means, said Prof. Rohan Gunaratna, who heads a terrorism research centre at Nanyang Technological University in Singapore.
Gunaratna, who's studied the Tigers for 20 years but has been heavily criticized for having ties too close to the Sri Lankan government, said Canada is internationally viewed as a soft spot.
He said this latest ship is testing Canada's response, and that two more ships will set sail in the coming months if the reaction is favourable.
Gunaratna advised Canadian officials during the hearings for the Ocean Lady detainees, but wouldn't reveal the source of his new information when asked.
As extensive preparations were made for the influx of people from the MV Sun Sea, including the readying of two Vancouver-area prisons, a Victoria hospital and Vancouver Island military base, advocates were asking the Canadian public not to prejudge.
"It's quite premature, and if the minister is relying on information provided by the Sri Lankan government, I think you need to be cautious," said Gary Anandasangaree of the Canadian Tamil Congress, who had flown to Victoria with others from the group to offer help.
Queen's University law professor Sharryn Aiken, an expert on immigration, refugee law and human rights law, agreed.
"What we have right now are rumours and innuendo, and I really do think it's problematic, sort of suggesting that all Tamils are terrorists and that's far from the case," she said. "The reality is Sri Lanka is a country with continuing human rights problems that have been well documented."
While scrutiny has already begun, Cannon said the next few days will be devoted to the health and safety of the passengers who haven't set foot on dry land in months.
"Instead of arguing that Canada is an easy mark for people who want to come to Canada, the fact of the matter is Canada is doing its job and upholding human rights like its required to do," he said.
"Like many other countries don't do properly."
Tamil boat not a crisis
The MV Sun Sea freighter that has just arrived on Canada's west coast, crammed with almost 500 passengers, may be carrying innocent Tamil civilians fleeing the aftermath of Sri Lanka's ugly civil war, desperate refugees who risked life and limb to seek asylum here. Or it may be full of Tamil Tiger terrorists.
We won't know until federal officials process the migrants.
But whatever the case, it has triggered a fit of hand-wringing that stretches from Prime Minister Stephen Harper's cabinet on down.
Public Safety Minister Vic Toews worries about Canada being seen as "an easy entry into North America." He's "very concerned" about marine human smuggling and security issues. He has "reason to believe" Tigers are involved in the voyage.
Canada is seen as "the easiest mark in the world" for refugees, warns Martin Collacott, our former top diplomat in Sri Lanka. Others agree. "The Tamil Tigers ... are laughing at Canada, how na´ve the Canadians are," says Prof. Rohan Gunaratna, an Asian expert.
But if that is indeed the case, any Tigers on the ship won't be chortling for long. Canadian warships, Royal Canadian Mounted Police vessels and the Border Services were despatched to intercept them. Ashore, jail cells await.
While Canadians have no intention of taking in extremists bent on planning or financing war on Sri Lanka from afar, there's no great risk of that. Last fall, the last boatload of Tamils to arrive contained 76 people. Police suspected 25 had Tiger links. But that concern seems to have been unfounded. After months of vetting, none was deemed to be a serious security threat. All were released into the 300,000-strong Tamil community. The latest arrivals, and any who follow them, can expect the same scrutiny.
Canadians aren't "soft" on terror, and we needn't apologize for our relatively open refugee policy. It's a strength, not a failing. We took in Hungarians fleeing Communism, Americans fleeing conscripted service in the Vietnam War, Vietnamese fleeing after the fall of Saigon, and Chileans fleeing death squads. We needn't second-guess ourselves because of a few potentially bogus asylum-seekers. It's worth bearing in mind that the United Nations refugee agency cautions that while Tiger commanders can be denied asylum, membership in itself isn't sufficient, because people were coerced to join.
Sure, Canadians would prefer that would-be immigrants follow due process and submit applications from abroad. Nobody likes a queue-jumper. Some 600 Chinese economic migrants who arrived here by boat in 1999 learned that the hard way. Just 24 got refugee status. The majority were sent home. Canada continues to work with other countries to thwart the human smugglers.
But realistically, there's no easy way to block the relatively few asylum-seekers who arrive here by sea. All we can do is process them.
And processing will soon get faster. In June, the government won all-party support in Parliament for a tough new law that aims to speed approvals for true refugees and to deport fraudsters. It will be a year or more before the new process is up and running. But when it is, fewer will be able to game the system.
Until then, the MV Sun Sea's arrival needn't trigger a national panic attack. We've been here before.
Canadian officials board Tamil ship
The Toronto Star
VICTORIA, B.C. -- The Canadian Navy and the RCMP boarded the MV Sun Sea as the cargo ship carrying 490 migrants neared the B.C. coastline late Thursday night.
The vessel had been intercepted earlier in the day by military and RCMP ships when it was up north near Port Alberni. It was being guided into Victoria under the control of Canadian authorities.
The men, women and children on board, who left Sri Lanka in April and have been turned away from docking in at least two other countries, are claiming to be refugees and asking Canada for asylum.
Public Safety Minister Vic Toews, on his way to Victoria where the vessel was expected to arrive late Thursday night or early Friday morning, said there were "suspected human smugglers and terrorists" who have now entered Canadian waters.
"The Canadian government is taking action," said Toews. "Human smuggling and human trafficking are despicable crimes. They are both illegal and dangerous."
Personnel from the HMCS Winnipeg intercepted the Sun Sea after Toews said the vessel deviated from its course running parallel along the coastline and into Port Alberni.
Crew from the HMCS Winnipeg attempted to hail the Sun Sea several times and those on board responded that there were refugees on board.
"Human smugglers and human traffickers are now watching Canada's response to judge whether or not they can continue to take advantage of us," Toews said.
Among the migrants are terrorists associated with the Tamil Tigers, according to the minister.
Toews said the best legal case for prosecuting smugglers and traffickers is to intercept them in Canadian waters, rather than on the high seas.
A government source said authorities are still hoping to identify the Tamil Tigers on board and the smugglers controlling the vessel and separate them from the other migrants before the MV Sun Sea lands on B.C.'s coast.
Tamil refugees are not jumping the immigration queue but are fleeing terrible human rights violations, a top immigration lawyer said at a news conference in Toronto Thursday.
"International aid agencies have reported that even though the war is over, there are brazen human rights violations in Sri Lanka," said Lorne Waldman. "They are not jumping any queue but fleeing in rickety boats for their lives."
"Immigration law recognizes people's right to apply for asylum. It's different from other categories of immigrants," he said. "Some people come by land, others fly in and some by boat."
He pointed out that 30,000 people apply for asylum in Canada every year on average. About half of them are accepted.
"These people are getting spectacular attention but the fact is they are 0.1 per cent of total refugees who apply for asylum in Canada every year," said Waldman. He represents about 25 of the 76 Tamils who arrived in Canada 10 months ago also by boat. Most now live in Toronto.
Boat people are always met with a bit of hysteria but "the fact is this is normal flow where applying for asylum is concerned," he said.
The news conference was organized by a coalition of Tamil organizations who are preparing for the arrival of the ship. They are appealing to the Canadian government to treat the migrants fairly.
Waldman, who has worked with refugees for years, said there is a strong likelihood that more such ships with refugees on board will try to take the same route to escape.
"As long as Tamils are persecuted against . . . even in camps, they will try and flee," he said. "We have to talk to the Sri Lankan government and look for a political solution."
Dozens of representatives of Tamil organizations are already in Victoria to help when MV Sun Sea docks in; they are starting to enlist the help of immigration lawyers but acknowledge that it will be harder this time because of the large numbers.
For the last two weeks, the RCMP has brought in translators in preparation for the arrival, according to a source in Victoria who has seen significant movement of personnel from the Canada Border Services Agency to RCMP senior investigators. At least a dozen paddy wagons from the mainland have been brought over to Victoria in anticipation of transporting the hundreds of migrants to two prisons in Maple Ridge, about an hour and a half east of Vancouver.
It is expected that most of the migrants will be given medical examinations and preliminary interviews at a temporary unit set up near the military base in Esquimalt. The most seriously ill of the migrants will be transported to Victoria General Hospital, where a separate emergency ward and a seventh-floor wing have been set aside. A number of the migrants on board the MV Sun Sea are believed to be sick with tuberculosis.
Activists called on the Canadian government to be fair and treat those seeking asylum with compassion.
"For two decades, the government has granted asylum to Tamils and accepted that they are fleeing atrocities," said Krisna Saravanamuttu, a spokesperson for National Council of Canadian Tamils. "We don't see how this is any different."
Saravanamuttu said there are "many" children under the age of 13 on board MV Sun Sea. "Just imagine the trauma these children have gone through."
The ship has been sailing since April, said Todd Ross of Canadian Human Rights Voice. "It's unsafe but people aboard have taken that course because they had no choice. We have to stop assuming that these are terrorists."
In Ottawa, Sri Lanka's high commissioner said her country's security and intelligence services are working with their Canadian counterparts to identify known terrorists.
Chitranganee Wagiswara said that the ship is captained by a senior member of the banned terrorist group who goes by the single name of Vinod.
Sri Lankan news reports have identified him as being involved in buying and transporting weapons from North Korea to Sri Lanka. They also say he has a crew of about two dozen people.
A "considerable number" of those passengers on board are also linked to the Tamil Tigers, she said in an interview Thursday, declining to provide further information.
"These are secret operations. They don't announce these things and have a passenger list. So these are all done secretly and whatever information is picked up is what is available," Wagiswara said, noting that her country's intelligence agencies have been tracking the ship since May and are in close contact with their Canadian counterparts.
It's not the raving propaganda of a government emerging from a three-decade civil war, said John Thompson, a Toronto-based intelligence expert.
The ship itself has been identified as part of the Tamil Tiger fleet. That fleet dispersed and is believed to have been disguised under different names and the flags of various other countries after the Tigers were defeated in 2009.
But the problem facing Canadian authorities now is how to separate the legitimate migrants in need of help and worthy of refugee status from the criminal elements that may be lurking on board.
The Canadian Tamil Congress is urging the government to treat each passenger as an individual asylum seeker rather than tar them all as terrorists. But the job will be complicated because of the Tigers' expertise in forging identity documents and because Canadian security agents once working full-time on Sri Lankan terrorist operations in Canada have been sidetracked since the end of the civil war by events such as the Olympics and the G8 and G20 summits earlier this year, Thompson said.
Wagiswara said her government will be working closely with the Canadians to identify and punish known terrorists.
But the arrival of the MV Sun Sea, in addition to reports that two more migrant ships could be bound for Canada, should serve as a wake-up call. At least the Sri Lankan government hopes that it will.
"Though the war is no longer there and there is no activity in Sri Lanka, (the Tigers') network outside is intact, the money is intact and the leaders are around," said Wagiswara. "So that's the next phase that Sri Lanka is facing because the outside support is still there."
There has even been talk of the Tigers going into exile and rebuilding their political and fundraising bases so that they can fight another day, Thompson said.
"In other words they might have lost the war in Sri Lanka but if they can ever get an opening again they'll make sure there's money for arms and recruits."
Don't jail the Sun Sea migrants, says advocate
The refugee-rights collective No One Is Illegal is decrying the Canadian government's decision to incarcerate the passengers of the MV Sun Sea when they arrive in B.C. this weekend.
Harsha Walia, a spokesperson for No One Is Illegal, said that the decision to jail the 200 to 500 Tamil migrants on their arrival is a poor response by the federal government.
"A lot of the response to this boat isn't really rooted in a legal response, it's rooted in a deliberately created hysteria, in a prejudgment and a stereotype of them as terrorists," she said.
The government will most likely place children from the boat into foster care while their guardians are in prison, Walia said.
The situation is very similar to one in October of last year, when the MV Ocean Lady brought approximately 75 Tamil migrants to B.C. All were incarcerated, but were released by January.
"[The Canadian Border Services Agency] were not able to substantiate anything that justified their ongoing detention," Walia said. "And in fact the judge admonished them for relying on [Rohan Gunaratna], a source that was closely connected to the Sri Lankan government."
But Gunaratna is the sole source being used to characterize the passengers on the Sun Sea as terrorists, Walia said.
"That's their only evidence right now, relying on this one discredited source," she said, "And certainly something like a label of terrorism is not something people should be taking lightly, but it seems like all the mainstream media is parroting it."
Walia said that Tamils in particular are a minority well-recognized as suffering human rights violations under the current Sri Lankan government.
"Canada itself actually has a really high rate of acceptance of Sri Lankans," she said. "In the past few years, it's been over 90 per cent. So there's really no reason to go through the same process that we went through in October."
Putting hundreds of migrants through the prison system is also very expensive, Walia added.
"What's frustrating is people are saying they're a burden on the system. But the reason it's a burden is because the government is spending hundreds of thousands of dollars to incarcerate them."
Ultimately, Walia said, jailing the migrants accomplishes little besides stigmatizing refugees. And it's indicative of a worrying trend in the federal government's immigration policies, she said.
"The course that Canada is taking is increasingly anti-refugee under [Immigration and Multicultural Minister Jason] Kenney," she said, "And part of being able to justify having fewer and fewer refugees is starting to label them all potential terrorists."
No evidence Sri Lankan refugees were terrorists, admits CBSA
VANCOUVER -- The Canada Border Services Agency now admits it has no proof that 25 Sri Lankan boat migrants it labelled as terrorists and kept behind bars for months were in fact members of the outlawed Tamil Tigers.
Last month, The Vancouver Sun obtained a secret CBSA report that stated there were "reasonable grounds" to believe a third of the 76 migrants who arrived in B.C. on the Ocean Lady migrant ship last October were members of the Tamil Tigers.
The report, written in January, suggested the entire purpose of the journey may have been to help the Tigers establish a new base of operations in Canada.
However, the concerns expressed in the report seemed out of step with how the CBSA handled the migrants' refugee cases before the Immigration and Refugee Board (IRB).
The CBSA did argue for the continued detention of those migrants it suspected for three months of being Tigers, and even made arrangements to present secret evidence to the IRB about why the men posed a danger to the public.
However, when the date for the secret hearings finally arrived in January, the CBSA suddenly withdrew its application and agreed to release all of the migrants under strict release conditions.
Five days before The Vancouver Sun published its story about the secret report, the paper sent the CBSA a list of questions, including why it agreed to release the men if they posed such a danger.
On Thursday, three weeks after receiving The Vancouver Sun's questions, the CBSA finally responded by e-mail.
"After a number of weeks of continued detention it became clear that unless CBSA was able to provide further specific information concerning inadmissibility with respect to each individual case, the IRB would order release," CBSA spokeswoman Shakila Manzoor wrote. "With no such information available, CBSA was not in a position to substantiate arguments for continued detention and the IRB began ordering release."
Vancouver lawyer Doug Cannon, who represents one of the migrants, said the CBSA's statement suggests the agency unfairly tagged the migrants as terrorists.
"Not only is it indicating they don't have any proof. It indicates they never had any proof," he said. "There was never anything substantial to justify the fears that they expressed ... It causes one to wonder: Do they really know what they're doing?"
Cannon said the CBSA made a number of allegations in detention hearings about the migrants which now appear groundless.
"They were clearly identifying these people as members of the Tamil Tiger terrorist organization," he said. "They identified a group of people and raised a red flag, kept them in custody for several months and then stepped back from that and essentially said: 'Never mind.'"
All the migrants claimed refugee status but none of them have yet had hearings to determine their status. In its written statement, the CBSA said all 76 migrants were accounted for and abiding by their conditions, which in some cases include curfews.
The Vancouver Sun asked the CBSA on Friday why it made such serious allegations against the migrants if it didn't have the evidence to prove them.
Manzoor replied by e-mail: "As this case/file is still under investigation, it would be inappropriate to comment further."
Refugee boats face blockades of fear
In a world feeling the devil's crop of fear and xenophobia, another object of terror has arrived on the nightly news -- the MV Sun Sea.
The Thai cargo ship, headed for Victoria, B.C., is said to be carrying 200 Tamil migrants from Sri Lanka.
It is being reported that Tamil Tigers, an outlawed terrorist group in this country, are amongst the passengers. The RCMP, the Canada Border Services Agency, and British Columbia's prison system await them with locked arms.
One response to the arrival of the MV Sun Sea came from an unnamed government source who said that the federal government is concerned that the ships carrying the migrants are unsafe and that passengers are being mistreated.
But an Internet respondent to the story didn't bother with the official pretense of humanitarian concern: "Sink the ship before it makes Canada's shores! The "next batch" won't be so quick to rush over here!!!"
Those words are eerily reminiscent of ones spoken by Franklin Roosevelt's cousin, Laura Delano Houghteling, in 1939. In voicing her opposition to a domestic political compromise that would have allowed 20,000 Jewish children from Nazi Germany into America, she said: "Twenty thousand charming children would all too soon grow into twenty thousand ugly adults."
President Roosevelt performed a Pontius Pilate.
He remained indifferent to the plight of Jewish children and he turned away the 900 Jewish refugees aboard the S.S. St. Louis trying to escape Hitler's liquidation program. The vast majority of passengers had identity papers.
That didn't make any difference to the United States -- or to Canada.
Canada also rebuffed 354 Indian passengers aboard the S.S. Komagata Maru who tried to immigrate to this country in 1914.
After being forced to sail back to India, several passengers were killed in a confrontation with Indian authorities.
Sometimes governments behave humanely to the desperate who come by boat to their shores, sometimes less so.
Israel led the world in taking in unwanted Vietnamese boat people. Then Prime Minister Menachem Begin said it was the "natural thing" to do.
When boatloads of Vietnamese arrived in Hong Kong fleeing the new communist regime back home, each and every detained person at least received an immigration hearing before being sent back to Saigon if they failed to qualify in Hong Kong as refugees.
In the case of the Haitian boat people, 14,000 of whom ended up in internment camps in Guantanamo Bay, it was simple and brutal forced repatriation without any assessment -- unless you count coast guard vessels ramming floating death traps on the high seas as a refugee process.
Hundreds of Haitians died either en route to America or sailing back to Haiti -- a policy pursued by both presidents Bill Clinton and George W. Bush for as long as possible.
There are obviously major issues for any state to carefully and cautiously review all refugee claims.
But it is equally obvious that the demands of the state are often thin camouflage for a less noble idea: Desperate foreigners on the move are not wanted on the voyage -- especially if they are easily stereotyped in a disagreeable way.
As Jews, Indians, Vietnamese, and Haitians could readily tell you, there is never much political downside to keeping the "others" out.
We continue to receive the SOS of the desperate as an encoded threat.
Tamil migrants in good condition
VANCOUVER, British Columbia (AP) -- Hundreds of Tamil asylum seekers from war-ravaged Sri Lanka spent a grueling three months at sea in a cramped, ramshackle cargo ship but arrived in fairly good condition, Canadian officials said Saturday.
The ship, carrying at least 450 refugees, was modified in order to maximize profits for a human smuggling operation likely organized by the Tamil Tigers, Canada's top security official said.
The Thai-flagged MV Sun Sea docked Friday near British Columbia's capital of Victoria on Vancouver Island, 47 miles (75 kilometers) east of Vancouver.
Canadian officials said some refugees were nauseous and dehydrated but were mostly in good spirits.
"The people were in fairly good health," Canadian Border Services executive director Rob Johnston said. "They were very cooperative. They were communicative ... I personally did not see anybody who looked like they had been through a very harrowing experience."
A total of 450 migrants had been processed since the ship docked Friday, Johnston said, who added the conditions aboard ship were better than officials had feared. He said there were hammocks and eating areas, and that the women and children were separated from the men.
He said more than 350 men, 50 women, and 50 children were onboard. The government had previously said 490 were on board.
"The vessel was in much better shape than expected, it was relatively clean and organized. A system had been developed to dispose of waste and garbage," he said.
Johnston said they appeared to have been well fed and had adequate water.
Royal Canadian Mounted Police Insp. Tracey Rook also said they were surprised by how good the migrants looked considering how long they were at sea.
"They were not like how you may expect after being at sea for several months," she said. "Their clothing was in good condition and they had access to food and water en route."
Public Safety Minister Vic Toews said the vessel was extensively renovated so that it could carry as many people as possible. He called it the work of a sophisticated criminal network -- likely the Tamil Tigers -- an organization Canada labeled a terrorist group in 2006
"This isn't any old sailing boat," Toews 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 maximize 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.
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 asylum in Canada. The United Nations and some non-governmental organizations have reported people in Sri Lanka are still being abused.
Canada is home to about 300,000 Tamils, the largest Tamil community outside Sri Lanka and India.
Toews has said the Tigers have used suicide bombings against civilians in Sri Lanka, as well as extortion and intimidation to raise funds within Canada's Tamil community.
Canadian officials say they are trying to determine whether any of the people on the vessel are members of the Tigers. Officials said the investigation is still in its early stages.
Chitranganee Wagiswara, Sri Lanka's high commissioner to Canada, has said the ship's captain, a man named "Vinod," is a known Tiger and smuggled arms for the group. She believes that since the civil war is over, the Tigers might be trying to regroup in Canada, a country that has historically been a large source of their fundraising.
Toews believes more ships are on the way.
"There's been a concerted effort by an organized group to deliberately take advantage of our system to come to Canada," he said.
Gary Anandasangaree, a lawyer with the Canadian Tamil Congress, 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 aggravated by claims by the Canadian government that some of these migrants may be terrorists.
But he said all of the migrants have disembarked and they're safe, have had a warm meal and a proper shower.
"From the reports I've seen, they're relatively healthy. They're in better shape than I imagined," he said.
Anandasangaree hoped he would be able to start meeting with the immigrants later Saturday. He said more than 100 Canadian Tamil families have contacted his organization, believing family members may have come off the boat.
The 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.
The ship entered Canadian waters and was boarded by security officials late Thursday and brought to the military port on Vancouver Island. As a signatory to the UN Convention on Refugees, Canada must process all refugee claimants who manage to reach Canadian soil.
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 the city of Vancouver on Canada's mainland, in the coming days. Purdy said the prisons are already overcrowded.
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.
British Columbia's children's ministry has taken custody of some of the children.
Detention reviews for the adults are expected to take place in Maple Ridge.
Tamil died on voyage to Canada
A Canadian Tamil organization say nearly all the 45 children and some women arriving in B.C. on the MV Sun Sea are traumatized after witnessing a man dying on board the ship and being buried at sea.
Some of the 490 claimants who arrived illegally last Friday will undergo refugee hearings starting on Monday in B.C. They are required to have a hearing within 48 hours of their arrival in Canada.
The children who arrived on the boat are "traumatized" by the death of the man, who was in his 30s and had a wife a child in Sri Lanka, said members of the Canadian Tamil Congress (CTC).
"The children and some women knew the man and witnessed his death and burial," CTC spokesman Sarujan Kanapathipillai said on Sunday. "They will require grief counselling."
He said the man, whose identity hasn't been released, died from an unknown condition in late July.
"There were no doctors on board and he was buried at sea," Kanapathipillai said. "He was coming here to make a better life for his wife and son back at home."
He said CTC lawyers have spoken to some of those from the ship and reported they're in good condition. The Tamils are being held at CFB Esquimalt.
"We have been relaying messsages back to Sri Lanka from those who've made it," Kanapathipillai said. "We are helping them out and making sure they're fine."
Toronto immigration lawyers expect more than 90% of Tamils to be accepted by an Immigration and Refugee Board. In addition to the 45 children, there were 50 women and 395 men on board.
In the first six months of 2010, there were 1,163 Sri Lankan cases pending before the IRB and 345 of those were accepted, board statistics show. Sri Lankan applicants have an 85% acceptance rate, which is the highest of the top 10 refugee producing countries.
Board documents show it's difficult for Ottawa to deport Sri Lankans who are in the country illegally since many don't have proper identification. Ottawa has a list of 17 Tamils awaiting deportation but can't remove them due to lack of documents. Ten of those men are being turfed for national security concerns.
Canada criticized for presuming Tamil boatmen to be LTTE activists
Sri Lankan News
Canada has been criticized for concluding that a boat entering the country on Friday with 490 suspected asylum seekers might include members of the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE).
"Let's not jump to conclusions without facts. Until we assess each of the refugee claimant's individual situation under Canadian law, we don't know whether they are genuine refugees or not. And if they are, their file should be done quickly and accepted so they can stay here. If not, they should be deported," The Globe and Mail News quoted New Democratic Party (NDP) immigration critic Olivia Chow, as saying.
Referring to Ottawa's infamous decision to turn away Jewish refugees from Nazi Germany in the 1930s, Chow warned Canada not to forget its past record on dealing with refugees.
"We should follow the refugee law and treat these individuals equally under Canadian law," she added.
The British Columbia Civil Liberties Association called on Ottawa to respect the human rights of those on board.
"Canada must also ensure that the mistakes made in the handling of many of the Tamil migrants arriving on the MV Ocean Lady last October not be repeated," the association said.
While concerns about national security and human smuggling are key to refugee cases, critics believe that hyped-up hysteria about terrorism should not be used as an excuse to turn away legitimate refugees or deny help to those who desperately need it.
Unlike Australia, Canada cannot adopt a policy to turn the boats away before entering Canadian waters, as it would be a violation the country's Charter of Rights and Freedoms and its obligations under international law.
In 1997, the Inter-American Court of Human Rights determined unequivocally that such conduct would be contrary to Canada's international obligations.
Canada has said that it considers the 'MV Sun Sea', which docked at Forces Base Esquimalt near Victoria carrying these refugees on Friday, a "test boat" to probe the country's receptiveness to ship-borne refugees by people with similar interests, as part of a 'wider human smuggling operation' to send more illegals in the region.
"I consider the MV Sun Sea a "test boat" to probe Canada's receptiveness to ship-borne refugee claims, part of a wider human smuggling operation with designs on sending more illegals here," The Globe and Mail News quoted Public Safety Minister Vic Toews, as saying.
"This particular situation is being observed by others who may have similar intentions and I think it's very important that Canada deals with the situation in a clear and decisive way. I don't view this as an isolated, independent act," he added.
A Canadian government source has revealed the authorities have reports that two foreign ships are in South Asian waters collecting passengers with an eye to enter the country. (ANI)