When nine people emerged from a shipping container on board the M.S. Lugano, which docked at Montreal’s port last Thursday, their biggest surprise was that they had arrived in Canada. The stowaways had secretly boarded the ship in Casablanca, Morocco earlier that week, thinking they were bound for Europe.
The Canadian Border Service Agency (CBSA) took the individuals into custody, after which they were taken to an immigration detention centre in Laval, where they are currently being held until the Immigration Review and Board (IRB) can verify their identities.
“The officers were on board the boat at 1:56 a.m.,” said Jacqueline Roby, a CBSA spokesperson. The officers were able to determine that all nine “were in good health…and appeared well fed.”
Last Friday, seven of the nine detainees told their stories to the IRB. The stowaways claimed that they had hid in a shipping container on the ship’s with the expectation of landing either in Italy or Portugal, the Lugano’s two stops before heading to Canada.
The nine were discovered on-board the ship October 4, while the Lugano was en route to Montreal. At that point they claimed to be Iraqi refugees. A later fax sent by the Canadian Maritime Agency determined that they were in fact Moroccan. When the Lugano docked at the port of Montreal on October 7 the stowaways were taken into custody.
The Montreal Gazette reported that they used asthma inhalers to combat bad air quality and that one of the stowaways reported not having slept for seven days. Roby withheld further details regarding conditions aboard the ship.
According to Robert Gervais, an IRB spokesperson, the refugees had “no identification whatsoever…and must be detained until their identities are established.”
Gervais said that the detention review conducted for seven detainees last Friday was filmed, which usually only happens in the case of a refugee claim or if the detainee is a minor. He could not specify whether the seven detainees were claiming refugee status.
According to the CBC, seven of the nine refugees are applying for refugee status. The other two have not, but also want to stay in Canada.
The 1967 Protocol from the U.N. Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees defines a refugee as “a person who, owing to a well-founded fear of being persecuted…is unwilling to return to [their home country].” However, the detainees did not express any fear of returning to Morocco.
Seven of the stowaways will appear again before the review board this Friday, and the other two will appear on Monday. Once their identities are established they will be released from custody unless they are considered a flight risk.
Ever since the arrival of the M.V. Sun Sea and close to 500 Tamil refugees in the port of Victoria this past August, the federal government has been pushing for tighter legislation regarding illegal immigration, especially human trafficking.
The Gazette reported that one of the detainees told investigators that they had planned the entire exploit by themselves without any outside aid. However, it is still being determined whether this case did in fact involve human trafficking.