Several Sri Lankans stranded in Ghana en route Canada
After six Sri Lankan men arrived in the African nation of Ghana to
crew a large fishing vessel, they realized they were being watched. The
revelation caused them to flee north by land, from Ghana's largest port,
towards the border with Burkina Faso, an area known for its crocodiles.
There they were arrested and accused of plotting to fill that fishing
boat with Sri Lankan migrants currently stranded in neighbouring Togo,
and help them complete their haggard, blackmarket journey to Canada.
Another 12 people were arrested by Ghanaian authorities, found hiding
around that country's port of Tema, Africa's largest manmade harbour,
where the vessel was seized and remains under heavy guard.
The drama of this week's sweep, apparently shuttering a smuggling
ring before it set off on a dangerous sea voyage, started with a tip
from the Canadian Security Intelligence Service, which has been
aggressively tracking suspected international migrant smugglers in a bid
to prevent another influx of boat people arriving on Canada's shores.
On Wednesday, Canadian diplomats and Ghanaian security officials
inspected their catch: a messy, 20,000-ton, 30-metre long red-and-white
painted vessel, with truck tires dangled over the sides as fenders, that
was inspected by Trudy Kernighan, Canada's High Commissioner to Ghana,
and other Canadian officials.
Like most smuggling vessels, it seemed to be chosen on a budget, to
carry people inconspicuously rather than comfortably or safely.
The operation began almost a month ago when CSIS contacted Ghanaian
security authorities about suspected smugglers heading to their country,
said Richard Anamoo, Director General of Ghana Ports and Harbours.
"We received a report from the Canadian Security Intelligence Service
that they had certain information, that they were tracking several
gentlemen who appeared to be using a vessel to traffic human beings and
likely to be using our port as their departure point," Mr. Anamoo said.
Ghanaian authorities started investigating every ship in the immense
commercial port, and monitoring those that seemed suspicious. Officials
sifted through ship registries, departure plans, and cargo manifests,
eventually focussing on the MV Ruvuma, a fishing vessel that once sailed
in Somali waters but was recently purchased and docked in Tema's fishing
The investigation determined the ship was really being prepared for a
gruelling 7,500 km transatlantic voyage west, towards the east coast of
Canada, authorities said.
Its cargo, rather than fish, they allege, was to be an unknown number
of Sri Lankan migrants, mostly ethnic Tamils, who have been struggling
to get out of Togo and Benin, neighbouring West African countries.
"A number of migrants were trying to complete their journey to
Canada," Mr. Anamoo said.
The would-be passengers were some of the 209 Sri Lankan migrants who
fled their homeland following a long civil war by paying smugglers to
take them to Canada, but - after travelling through India and Ethiopia -
were abandoned in Togo in November. They were taken into custody and
kept in an open sports stadium in Lomé, Togo's capital.
Since then, 164 of them accepted voluntary return to Sri Lanka; 42
had not decided whether to return home; while three claimed asylum in
Togo. During the Togo incarceration, four migrants escaped and their
whereabouts are unknown, according to the International Organization for
Authorities would not say if any of those arrested in Ghana were the
absconders from Togo. Ghanaian authorities say all those arrested are
Sri Lankan nationals and none are Canadian. The names of those arrested
were being withheld pending investigation.
Jason Kenney, Canada's immigration minister, said the operation is a
warning about illegal migration.
Courtesy: The National Post