Friday, September 03, 2010

Ethnic cleansing still going on in Sri Lanka, Markham refugee says

By L.H. Tiffany Hsieh | York Region

It took 45 days at sea. When the ship docked, the man could barely walk and had trouble breathing. He saw a Canadian flag and it signaled freedom and security to him.

However, what the man wished for was to have died on the boat.

The man in this story has been on a journey since last October, when he fled his country and found himself in Canada, and eventually Markham.

Due to publication ban of a security nature, The Economist & Sun can’t name him or disclose details that may identify him.

He is best known for the time being as one of the 76 Tamil refugees on board the Ocean Lady last fall.

“We felt we were going to die for sure,” the man said through translator Peri Casinathan, a volunteer with the Canadian Tamil Congress.

“There was no time to think of food — it was a fight to stand straight — everybody was sea sick.”

The refugee claimant — he is now waiting for his hearing before the Immigration and Refugee Board — said he lived a normal life in Sri Lanka, where he had a house, a wife, and a young child. He knew no one on the boat and no one in Canada. One day found himself having to leave the country immediately in order to save the lives of his family, he said.

“The day I decided to leave, human value was buried in Sri Lanka,” he said.
Within six hours, with only two backpacks, he flew to Bangkok, Thailand. Next he was approached by a stranger, who spoke no Tamil and little English and wanted his passport. The refugee claimant said he paid the stranger $40,000 U.S. cash to board the Ocean Lady.

“Coming to the ship was an accident,” he said, noting it was also illegal. “I was in a very confused state of mind.”

The refugee claimant said he was targeted by the Sri Lankan government due to his profession. He said the declaration that the war between the government and the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (the LTTE, also known as the Tamil Tigers) was over was just a show for the international media.

“It was not a war on terrorism. It was a war against Tamils — it was an ethnic cleansing and it’s still going on,” he said.

He said if he were killed in Sri Lanka, his family wouldn’t be able to identify his body, because the Sri Lankan government would burn his head or chop it off.

During his four months in a detention centre in British Columbia after landing, the man said his only connection to the outside world was a TV in his holding cell.

“I was sad that we were labelled terrorists back home and after I landed here, we were labelled terrorists by mainstream media, only because we were born Tamils,” he said.

While the Sri Lanka High Commission in Ottawa states on its website that the recent arrival of the MV Sun Sea with 490 illegal migrants on board is a human smuggling operation with links to the LTTE, the refugee claimant said they are “future war crime witnesses.”

He said if he could apply for a visa or immigration, instead of docking here illegally, “I’d have taken the Sri Lankan government to the international court.”

These days, the refugee claimant is learning English and reporting to immigration officials weekly, while his family is in hiding in Sri Lanka. He describes life in Canada as a crushed paper and still says he would have preferred to have died on the Ocean Lady.

“I have no control over my life now — I can’t work, I can’t go to university or college, and I don’t want to be a burden to Canadians,” he said. “When my family is in danger, I’m not in a position to make friends or enjoy life.”

Should his refugee claim be successful, he said he plans to bring his family over. But the process is a long one, said Mr. Casinathan, the translator.

“It’s about 10 to 12 years from the time you land to when you become a Canadian citizen,” Mr. Casinathan said.

Asked if he has any advice for the migrants currently being detained for security screening, “the border services people are doing an excellent job,” the refugee claimant said. “You should be thankful. You can live peacefully in this country.”

© York Region

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