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 nongovernmental organizations have reported that 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 aggravated by claims by the Canadian government that some of these migrants may be terrorists.

Canadian Public Safety Minister Vic Toews said he has no doubt there was illegal activity, and maybe terrorist activity, on board the ship.

He suggested that 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.

Canadian officials say they are trying to determine whether any of the people on the vessel are members of the Tigers.

As a signatory to the U.N. Convention on Refugees, Canada must process all refugee claimants who manage to reach Canadian soil.

“All individuals will be processed in accordance with Canadian law, which involves an examination, the taking of fingerprints and photographs, and security and criminal checks,” said Rob Johnston, border services executive director.

The Thai-flagged MV Sun Sea reportedly approached Australia a few months ago but was either turned away or feared it wouldn’t be allowed to dock and sailed toward Canada, where about 300,000 Tamils live.

Officials weren’t yet able to say what the conditions were like during the journey, or provide a breakdown of how many children and women there are.


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