Vancouver, British Columbia — Hundreds of Tamil asylum seekers from war-ravaged Sri Lanka who spent a grueling three months at sea in the belly of a cramped, ramshackle cargo ship may be traumatized, a lawyer with the Canadian Tamil Congress said Saturday.
The ship, carrying 490 refugees, docked Friday near British Columbia’s capital of Victoria on Vancouver Island, 47 miles east of Vancouver.
Gary Anandasangaree said the refugees may be experiencing post-traumatic stress disorder following 90 days at sea after fleeing a war-torn country.
“Post-traumatic stress disorder is not easy to treat. It’s not like a broken arm,” he said. “Imagine if you were a kid on that ship and you don’t have your parents.”
The Tamil Tigers, also known as the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam, sought an independent state, claiming decades of discrimination by Sri Lanka’s Sinhalese majority. The conflict killed more than 80,000 people and ended after a massive government operation against the Tigers.
While the conflict ended in May 2009, Tamil leaders in Canada say the ethnic Tamil minority still faces persecution, which is why they are seeking refugee in Canada. The United Nations and some non-governmental organizations have reported people in Sri Lanka are still being abused.
Anandasangaree said the horrors of war and the terrors of the voyage will undoubtedly have left many of the refugees with post-traumatic stress disorder, which will be further impacted by claims by the Canadian government that some of these migrants maybe terrorists.
Canada’s Public Safety Minister Vic Toews said he has no doubt there was illegal activity, and maybe terrorists, on board the ship, suggesting the rebel Tamil Tigers were smuggling people into Canada, home to the largest Tamil community outside Sri Lanka and India. Canada labeled the Tamil Tigers a terrorist group in 2006.