Each of the 490 Sri Lankans dumped on the B.C. coast by MV Sun Sea are worth up to $20,000 — a haul of almost $10 million — for smugglers or "snakeheads", a Liberal MP says.
"Snakeheads" routinely charge from $15,000 to $20,000 for the sea trip to Canada, said Liberal MP Jim Karygiannis, who is a member of an immigration standing committee.
"I am concerned about the women and the children," he said Saturday.
"The women can be forced to work in the sex trade to repay their passage," Karygiannis said.
There were 90 women and 45 children on the boat.
"In many cases their families here pay for the trip," he said, adding others work in harsh conditions for low pay to give to the smugglers.
"We know there are human smugglers preying on these people in refugee camps," said Manjula Selvarajah, of the Canadian Tamil Congress, adding living conditions on the ship were terrible.
"This is awful and we have taken a strong stand against human smuggling," she said.
More than 90 Toronto Tamils have called their office with the names of 150 relatives who may be on the ship.
The migrants, who are expected to file refugee claims, are now undergoing health and background security checks at CFB Esquimalt.
Officers are screening for Tamil Tiger terrorists who may be hiding among the refugees.
Toronto immigration lawyers estimate it'll cost about $22 million in legal fees for refugee hearings and appeals for the claimants.
About 91% of Sri Lankan refugees are accepted by immigration and refugee boards (IRB) to stay in Canada, Lawyer Richard Kurland said.
"Most of this group will end up living in Canada legally," he said.
"The majority are accepted by the IRB as legitimate refugees." Public Security Minister Vic Toews has said.
He added that the government "must ensure that our refugee system is not hijacked by criminals or terrorists."
Meanwhile, the office of the UN high commissioner for refugees in Ottawa is encouraging Canadian authorities to receive and provide assistance for the Tamils.