Saturday, October 9, 2010

9 Moroccan Stowaways Found in Shipping Container in Montreal Are Seeking Refugee Status

This is quite a story. It is just a relief that they survived the journey, Alhamdulilah. Here is the article from the CBC.

Stowaways arrested in Montreal speak out

Last Updated: Friday, October 8, 2010 | 8:05 PM ET
The Canadian Press

The stowaways were found hiding in a ship that docked at the Port of Montreal.The stowaways were found hiding in a ship that docked at the Port of Montreal. (CBC)A group of Moroccan nationals spent seven days hiding inside a cold shipping container, being ferried by a cargo vessel to an unknown destination.

And by the time they emerged from their dark, dank hiding place, they were surprised to learn they were approaching Canada.

Those scant details emerged as testimony at Immigration and Refugee Board hearings Friday, a day after Canadian authorities raided a ship and arrested the men inside.

"I got on a boat, I didn't even know where it was going," one young man explained through an Arab-French interpreter. "I thought the ship was going to Spain or Italy."

Most of the nine people nabbed at the Port of Montreal immediately applied for refugee status; they were all ordered detained while customs officials tried to confirm their identities.

While such hearings before the Immigration and Refugee Board are normally held behind closed doors, a commissioner hearing the cases accepted a request from journalists to report the details on the condition that they not name the claimants.

Seven of stowaways appeared before the board Friday.

Stowaways suffered harrowing ordeal, lawyer says

Among those who testified were two young men who explained that they spent nearly a week hidden in a shipping container aboard the Swiss-owned MSC Lugano.

They had no official papers with them. They said they snuck onto the ship and didn't receive any help from anyone. They insisted they had no idea where they were going.

They said they simply assumed they'd be headed somewhere in Europe when they boarded in Casablanca, Morocco.

Canadian border officials learned, in interviews with the men, that the group had spent about four days hatching their plan before hopping aboard the cargo ship.

The men initially claimed to be of Iraqi descent and gave fake names before later admitting they were from Morocco.

One young stowaway was using asthma medication Friday to offset the effects of the stale air in the container. The only other possessions with him were a cellphone and keys to a motorcycle. He told IRB officials he hadn't slept in seven nights when they first questioned him.

The baby-faced young man confessed that he'd once spent eight months in jail. He said he wanted to leave his country for a better life elsewhere.

"My goal was to work to help my family," he said in his brief remarks Friday.

Montreal lawyer Jamal Fraygui, who represented two of the men, said his clients had been through a harrowing ordeal. He called their initial contact with Canadian authorities a "terrifying welcome" as the men were questioned in the most "inhuman" conditions, on the ship at 3 a.m.

"My client is collaborating with authorities and he's prepared to furnish documents to prove his identity," Fraygui said. "You can see from the evidence presented … that it was not really a structured ring, it was residents of a neighbourhood that decided to take the risk."

Two others who have not claimed refugee status will have detention review hearings on Tuesday in Montreal.

Canada tries to shake reputation as choice landing for stowaways

Refugee hearings could take some time. IRB spokesman Robert Gervais said that, under the refugee-claims process, the men's case might only be heard in several months "or maybe a year from now."

The group's arrest made headlines Thursday. Such cases are generating particular interest as the Harper government promises a legislative crackdown on immigration queue-jumping.

Canada once held a reputation as a leading destination for illegal stowaways but the country doesn't routinely appear on lists anymore from the International Maritime Shipping Organization.

The organization says Italy is now the hot destination for illegal migrants seeking an easy port of entry.

Montreal and Halifax were regular destinations for Romanian migrants in the late 1990s.
© The Canadian Press, 2010

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