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Authorities probe funding for Tamil refugees’ travel

[AFP, Tuesday, 17 August 2010 08:11 No Comment]

g6BanNjVDKQ The authorities are investigating whether Sri Lankan rebels financed the passage of nearly 500 Tamil refugees to Canada last week, officials said before the start of detention hearings.

Public Safety Minister Vic Toews, speaking to The Globe and Mail daily in an article Monday, said passengers were charged up to 50,000 Canadian dollars (48,000 US dollars) for travel aboard the cargo ship MV Sun Sea.

Members of Canada’s 300,000 Tamil community may have helped fund their passage and the outlawed Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) rebels — regarded by Canada as a terrorist group — could have organized the voyage, he said.

"Obviously (the Royal Canadian Mounted Police) will follow every connection between the payment of money and those who received it," Toews told The Globe and Mail.

RCMP Constable Michael McLaughlin told AFP: "We’re investigating a variety of offenses.

"The human smuggling aspect is an obvious avenue that we have to pursue. Financing would be a sidebar of this investigation," he explained.

Toews’ spokesman Christopher McCluskey commented: "Human smuggling is a despicable crime and any attempts to abuse Canada’s generosity for financial gain are utterly unacceptable."

David Poopalapillai, spokesman for the Canadian Tamil Congress, disputed that any of the migrants are Tamil Tigers. "The Tigers have gone," he told reporters. "The Sri Lankan government is trying to keep Tigers in the media just to justify atrocities."

All those aboard the MV Sun Sea have requested asylum since arriving in westernmost Canada on Friday, Toews also said.

The Canada Border Services Agency (CBSA) has processed 492 migrants: 380 men, 63 women and 49 minors. "The CBSA must still confirm the identity and age of all migrants," the agency said in a statement.

The first of several hearings to decide whether the Tamils will be detained or released pending their eventual asylum decision started in the afternoon, but was adjourned to allow the adjudicator to decide whether to allow media access to the proceedings.

It was to resume on Tuesday with the first refugee claimant expected to be heard.

It could take several years for the Immigration and Refugee Board to decide whether to allow the refugee claimants to remain in Canada or to order their deportation.

According to figures provided by the refugee board, 91 percent of asylum seekers from Sri Lanka have been accepted in Canada in the past, compared to a 42 percent acceptance rate for all other countries combined.

On Saturday, Canadian authorities said the migrants were in good condition, despite a three-month journey aboard the rusty 59-meter (194-foot) Thai-registered ship.

Canadian Tamils have urged their adopted country to accept the asylum seekers, saying that the minority group faces continued difficulties in Sinhalese-majority Sri Lanka.

Sri Lanka’s government has described the ship as a people-smuggling operation by the defeated Tamil Tigers.

Sri Lanka government forces last year ended decades of civil war by crushing the rebels in a bloody finale in which the United Nations says at least 7,000 civilians were killed.

[Full Coverage]

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