Migrant kids play while parents go to refugee hearings
Migrants look over the side of the MV Sun Sea after it was escorted into CFB Esquimalt in Colwood, B.C., Friday, Aug. 13, 2010. (Jonathan Hayward / THE CANADIAN PRESS)
VANCOUVER - Some of the kids excitedly splash each other with water to beat the British Columbia heat, while others are more than happy to hang in the shade with their crayons.
But this is far from the average Vancouver-area playground -- it's a youth detention centre that's currently home to more than 40 children who arrived in Canada via cargo ship last week.
Forty-four minors are at the Burnaby centre in all, though they aren't formally classified as detained. Forty-three are with their mothers, while one has a father who's being held at a different facility.
As the adults busy their days in hearings with the Immigration and Refugee Board, the children are spending their first week in B.C. much as they would anywhere else.
"Kids are kids. They'll adapt anywhere," said Gary Anandasangaree, a lawyer with the Canadian Tamil Congress.
"They're running around. They're splashing water. ... There's drawing, there's colouring, there's crayons. One of the lawyers brought a couple of cakes and they celebrated a couple of birthdays."
The MV Sun Sea, carrying 492 migrants believed to be Tamils from Sri Lanka, docked at CFB Esquimalt near Victoria on Friday morning. The ship was intercepted off Vancouver Island the day before.
The migrants were processed by the Canada Border Services Agency and then ferried to correctional facilities near Vancouver. Refugee board hearings began this week.
There were 49 minors on the vessel in all. Five of the older youths are being kept at a separate facility.
Malini Dyonisius, a lawyer representing some of the migrants, said the conditions at the youth detention centre are acceptable.
"They have been given mattresses and bed sheets," she said. "They take good care of food and clothes and children go out and play."
Dyonisius represented five of the 25 mothers who are being housed at the Burnaby centre during a refugee board hearing Wednesday morning.
She asked the board, CBSA and the Ministry of Public Safety to prioritize cases involving women and children.
Anandasangaree said at the hearing one of the toddlers has a head injury from a piece of shrapnel.
"He has wounds to his head which will require medical attention," he said.
"Although there doesn't appear to be an imminent issue, the wound nevertheless exists and should be cared for."
Publication of the migrants' names, ages, places of birth and other identifying details are banned.
Ron Yamauchi, a lawyer for the CBSA, asked the board to keep the five women detained until their identities can officially be confirmed.
Each of the women was carrying documents, such as birth or marriage certificates, or Sri Lankan national identification.
Lynda Mackie, the refugee board's adjudicator, called the Ministry of Public Safety's efforts to verify who the women are reasonable and ordered them to remain in detention.
She added she's heard nothing to suggest the women aren't co-operating with officials.
The women's next hearing is scheduled for Aug. 25.
By mid-day Wednesday, 110 mandatory detention reviews had been completed. All were detained on the grounds of establishing their identity.