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Tamils frustrated by detention: lawyer- Ottawa Citizen

[MISC, Saturday, 21 August 2010 07:45 2 Comments]

As dusk fell one night this week, about two dozen Tamil children spilled out onto the grassy field of a detention facility they now call home.

Dressed in bright colours, the children hollered and squealed as they kicked soccer balls and chased bubbles with facility staff. Several women — presumably the children’s mothers — watched from the sidelines.

While some of the 492 Tamil migrants who recently arrived on Canada’s western shores wonder why they are still being detained, they are nonetheless grateful to be on Canadian soil and appreciate the treatment they have received, lawyers who are helping the migrants say.

"How beautiful" that detention staff have been engaging the families and colouring and playing with children despite the language barrier, said Malini Dyonisius, one of several lawyers who has been representing the migrants in detention review hearings. "I was touched by this."

But the exhilaration of being in a new country has been tempered with confusion too, said Luxmi Vasan, a Toronto lawyer, who has been counselling the detainees.

She said one woman told her: "They’re treating us nice, but detaining us. I don’t understand what the government is doing."

Support for the migrants appears to be divided across the country. An Angus Reid poll released Friday showed that almost half of Canadians — 48 per cent — favour deporting the migrants. Thirty-five per cent said they should be allowed to stay.

It was just over a week ago that they ended a 90-day voyage aboard the Thai cargo ship, the MV Sun Sea.

Upon their arrival in Canada the migrants were split up into different detention facilities. The mothers and children ended up at the Burnaby Youth Detention Centre.

The facility — equipped with basketball and volleyball courts and a soccer field — is located on the edge of an industrial park surrounded by tall trees and within earshot of tugboats chugging along the Fraser River.

Each family has been given their own sleeping quarters, Vasan said.

The lawyers say each time they visit, they are peppered with questions and concerns: Why are we being detained for so long? Why were we detained at all? When will we be able to see our relatives? Are surveillance cameras watching us all the time?

Vasan, who arrived as a refugee at Toronto’s airport in 1991 with her year-old son, said she understands their frustrations.

Thumbing through a thick Canadian immigration and refugee law text book filled with Post-it notes, Vasan says the government should have released the women and children by now.

Vasan said she spoke to one mother this week who was carrying an infant who had a piece of shrapnel embedded in his head.

She said it upsets her to hear that some Canadians believe the migrants should be sent home.

"Don’t call them queue-jumpers," she said. "They’re genuine refugees. They’re fleeing persecution in Sri Lanka. Just give them a chance."

But the fate of the migrants rests with the Immigration and Refugee Board.

And, as of Friday, government officials still had not completed verifications of the migrants’ identities, meaning the migrants must remain in detention.

And so, for now, the detainees pass the days by watching videos and reading books supplied by Canadian-based Tamil support groups.

And the children play.

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