Hundreds of Sri Lankan asylum seekers on board a cargo ship arrived at a naval base in western Canada today, escorted by a Canadian naval frigate and police helicopters.
The MV Sun Sea, which Canada and the United States had tracked for days, was brought into the Esquimalt naval base on Vancouver Island where Canadian authorities stood on deck wearing facial masks.
Buses with blacked-out windows stood ready to transport the migrants to holding jails. Officials said a quarantined ward was prepared in a hospital for any sick travelers.
Canada's public safety minister Vic Toews said Thursday there were 490 people aboard the ship, possibly including members of the banned Tamil Tiger rebels.
The ship had reportedly been on sea for 90 days and was deterred by Australia before heading to Canada, which has some of the most welcoming asylum policies and a politically active Tamil community.
Canadian Tamils have urged their adopted country to accept the asylum seekers, saying that the minority group faces continued difficulties in Sinhalese-majority Sri Lanka.
Sri Lanka last year ended decades of civil war by crushing the Tamil Tiger rebels in a bloody finale in which the United Nations says that at least 7,000 civilians were killed.
Despite concerns about Sri Lanka's human rights record, Western nations ban the Tamil Tigers as a terrorist organization. The group was known for its suicide bombings and use of child soldiers during its nearly four-decade fight for a separate Tamil homeland. (AFP)
Hundreds of Sri Lankan asylum seekers on board a cargo ship arrived at a naval base in western Canada on Friday. AFP