Tamil refugees in bad shape, seek asylum in Canada

Tamil refugees in bad shape, seek asylum in Canada

Some passengers stood on the deck, shaded by striped lengths of cloth, after the MV Sun Sea pulled in. Paramedics wearing surgical masks tended to them. A few were taken away on stretchers and whisked into ambulances at dockside; all were shielded from view by black umbrellas.

"This is a new beginning," said Canadian Tamil Congress spokesman Gary Anandasangaree, who watched the freighter slide into port.

The arrival of the 490 refugees, however, raised concerns among Canadian officials that the rebel Tamil Tigers, which fought and lost a bloody 25-year war for independence that ended in May 2009, was smuggling people into Canada, home to the largest Tamil community outside Sri Lanka and India.

"Our goal is to ensure that our refugee system is not hijacked by criminals or terrorists," said Public Safety Minister Vic Toews, whose government labelled the Tamil Tigers a terrorist group in 2006.

Last October, a ship carrying 76 Sri Lankan migrants was intercepted in Canadian waters. All are free while their cases are being processed.

While the war is over, Tamil leaders in Canada say, the ethnic Tamil minority still faces persecution. The United Nations and some non-governmental organizations have reported people in Sri Lanka are still being abused.

"If people looked at what they've endured back home, people would give these refugees the benefit of the doubt, which is what they do for every other person who approaches our borders," Canadian Tamil Congress spokeswoman Majula Selvarajah said.

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