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Canada court frees four detained Tamil migrants

[AFP, Saturday, 18 September 2010 08:17 No Comment]

Canada’s Federal Court ordered the release of four women out of nearly 500 Tamils from Sri Lanka, who arrived via a cargo ship in Western Canada last month and claimed refugee status.

The Friday’s ruling is a defeat for Canada’s government, which asked the court to overturn decisions by the independent Immigration and Refugee Board (IRB) to release some of the migrants under conditions to ensure they report for future hearings.

Border officials detained all 380 men and 63 women who arrived August 13 aboard the rickety ship the MV Sun Sea. They were accompanied by 49 children, who were allowed to stay with the migrants in jail or were placed with social services.

Canadian government and Sri Lankan officials allege the migrants included members of the Tamil Tigers, banned in Canada as a terrorist organization. The Tigers were key players in Sri Lanka?s lengthy civil war before their defeat last year by the government.

Citing the case of one of the women, the Federal Court Friday acknowledged the government’s concerns as "no doubt real," but upheld the release order from the IRB, including conditions.

"Deprivation of liberty ranks no doubt as one of the harshest measures that may be visited upon an individual in a democratic state," noted the court.

Border officials have mostly argued at IRB hearings that the migrants should be held either because their identities are not yet proved or in at least one case because a migrant poses a security risk.

As of Friday the government had appealed all but one release order — for a heavily-pregnant woman who was recently freed and is reportedly being cared for by a local refugee agency here.

Immigration hearings and court rulings are continuing on a daily basis.

The mass arrival has swamped local legal services and on Thursday the provincial legal aid organization appealed to the governments of British Columbia and Canada for more money to pay lawyers.

[Full Coverage]

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