'Have faith in us,' Tamil migrants write
Published Monday, August 16, 2010 5:24PM PDT
Tamil migrants who arrived in B.C. last week are asking Canadians to have faith that they are not terrorists, according to two letters said to have been written by passengers on the MV Sun Sea.
The letters, released by the Canadian Tamil Congress on Monday, tell of hardships left behind in Sri Lanka and express gratitude for the reception received in Canada.
"When we made our plea from the Pacific Ocean ‘we are civilians, please save us,' you did not hesitate to come and take us ashore and provide us with food, water, and fruits. This has assured us with the safety of our lives," the first, unsigned letter reads.
"We would like to ask the Canadian people and the Canadian Government to have faith in us to believe that we are innocent civilians who have been affected by the conflict (in Sri Lanka). We are not terrorists."
Vani Selvarajah, spokeswoman for the Canadian Tamil Congress, told ctvbc.ca that her group's Vancouver office received the letters by fax, and then translated them from Tamil.
"We actually don't have the exact source of where they came from," she said.
The second letter, signed by "Tamil people from the Sun Sea ship," says that the 492 asylum seekers are running from continuing instability in Sri Lanka following a decades-long civil war.
"We have travelled for almost four months with much suffering and pain. We have come here, to this wonderful country Canada, to protect ourselves and our family members from the murders, disappearances and violence that still exist in our native country," it reads.
The Canadian Tamil Congress says that it has also learned that there were journalists onboard the MV Sun Sea.
"I'm not surprised at all that journalists would flee Sri Lanka," spokesman Sarujan Kanapathipillai said. He added that both ethnic Tamil and majority Sinhalese reporters have been known to seek asylum outside of the country, which was rated 162nd out of 175 countries on media watchdog Reporters Without Borders' most recent press freedom index.
"It's not a very safe place for journalists," Kanapathipillai said.
Detention review hearings from the migrants are scheduled to begin on Monday, when a judge will consider if each of the Sun Sea's passengers is a danger to the public or presents a health concern.
The Canadian Border Services Agency has confirmed that the ship contained 380 men, 63 women and 49 children from Sri Lanka.
All of the migrants have undergone initial examinations with the CBSA.
Concerns about human smuggling continue
In a press conference Monday, Public Safety Minister Vic Toews reiterated concerns that the voyage of the MV Sun Sea was organized by human smugglers, possibly connected to the Tamil Tigers, a banned terrorist group in Canada.
"It's clear that the actual migrants were brought over here on a ship that was specifically outfitted to bring them here. For example, the sanitation facilities on a relatively small boat were extensively renovated in order to accommodate that many people," Toews said.
He added that exactly who organized the voyage has yet to be determined, and is under investigation by the RCMP.
"Our initial indications are that the LTTE (Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam) or the Tamil Tigers are involved whether that is overseas or in Canada I wouldn't rule out anything at this point."
Complete text of the letters
These are the views we wish to express to the Canadian Government, Canadian people, media and Canadian Tamil Congress regarding our plight.
- Initially, we would like to express our gratitude to the Canadian Government and the people of Canada. When we made our plea from the Pacific Ocean "we are civilians, please save us," you did not hesitate to come and take us ashore and provide us with food, water, and fruits. This has assured us with the safety of our lives.
- The Sri Lankan Government says that the ethnic conflict in Sri Lanka has come to an end. However, neither the Prevention of Terrorism Act [which allows for arbitrary arrest of civilians] nor the Emergency Regulations Act have been abolished. Innocent Tamil people detained in prisons have not been released. Displaced civilians have not been resettled in their own homes. Instead, there are widespread occurrences of disappearances, mass murders and extortion. The Sri Lankan Government is only conducting false propaganda internationally for its personal gains.
- We would like to ask the Canadian people and the Canadian Government to have faith in us to believe that we are innocent civilians who have been affected by the conflict. We are not terrorists. We would also like to let you know that we will abide and live by the laws of this country.
We, the people who have arrived in the ship "Sun Sea" would like to express the following to the Canadian people and the Canadian Government:
We have undergone severe hardships with very little or no access to basic necessities such as food, water, sleeping space, medicine and sanitary facilities. We have travelled for almost four months with much suffering and pain. We have come here, to this wonderful country Canada, to protect ourselves and our family members from the murders, disappearances and violence that still exist in our native country.
As a country which has embraced immigrants and migrants, we hope and believe that you will accept us, the refugees and we vow to wholeheartedly abide by the law and order of this country.
- Tamil People from the Sun Sea ship