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'Such a difficult journey:' Sri Lankan asylum-seeker
As a ship packed with Sri Lankan asylum-seekers nears B.C., passengers on the last migrant ship to reach the west coast are still waiting to hear whether they'll be allowed to stay in Canada.
None of the refugee claimants from the MV Ocean Lady, which arrived in B.C. 10 months ago, have had an immigration hearing yet. The backlog in Canada's refugee system is currently 21 months.
One of 76 passengers onboard the Ocean Lady told CTV News that he paid $44,000 to leave Sri Lanka.
He said through a translator that he lost relatives during the decades-long civil war between the Sri Lankan government and the rebel Tamil Tigers.
It was his first time taking a trip by boat.
"From the beginning till end it was such a difficult journey. All the food that we were eating, it wasn't good. We were throwing up and there were a lot of waves. It was a life-threatening situation," said the refugee claimant, who didn't want to give his name for fear of what could happen to his family back in Sri Lanka.
"Even when we were on the boat, we didn't know if we would make it alive to the shore."
A handful of the migrants who arrived on the Ocean Lady were facing terrorism charges in Sri Lanka. A report from the Canadian Border Services Agency says that 25 of them are middle-ranking Tamil Tigers with military skills.
"If these men chose to work in unison they could easily form a formidable (Tamil Tiger) presence in Canada," according to the CBSA's incident report.
But the Ocean Lady passenger says he was unaware of his fellow travellers' political or military connections.
"I didn't suspect anyone to be Tamil Tigers. I thought they were civilians just like me," he said.
Canada is home to the largest population of ethnic Tamil people outside of Sri Lanka. Border guards believe smugglers target the country because of our relatively welcoming refugee system.
In Australia, refugees from boats like the Ocean Lady and the MV Sun Sea are turned away,or processed in camps offshore.
Manjula Selvarajah of the Canadian Tamil Congress says that new arrivals should be judged individually.
"Hear their stories on a case-by-case basis, and if you feel that their story is valid, let them into the country to try to claim refugee status. If you feel that they're a threat to Canadian security, reject them," she said.
With a report from CTV British Columbia's Jon Woodward