Tamil migrant children start school in B.C.

The Tamil children who arrived on a boat from Sri Lanka last month have started attending school and early childhood development programs at a Burnaby, B.C., youth detention centre.
A Tamil family is led off the ship in Esquimalt, B.C., last month. (Jonathan Hayward/Canadian Press)

Some of the Tamil children who arrived on a boat from Sri Lanka last month have started attending school and early childhood development programs at a Burnaby, B.C., youth detention centre.

The 41 children who started class on Friday were among the 493 migrants who arrived by ship on Vancouver Island on Aug. 13. 

While they are not officially being detained, the children are in the care of about 25 mothers who are being held at the correctional facility while immigration officials try to verify their identities.

About 54 children arrived on the ship, but some are too young for the program or have moved to other areas of Canada or were unable to attend for other reasons.

The Burnaby School District, which is running the program in conjunction with B.C.'s Ministry of Children and Family Development, started the classes on Friday, according to Reno Ciolfi, the district's director of instruction.

The half-day classes are being taught by one full-time and two part-time teachers. Those children too young for school are getting help though B.C.'s StrongStart program, he said. Counsellors and a cultural transition co-ordinator are also involved in the temporary program.

Natural communication

Despite fleeing a war zone in Sri Lanka, a traumatic three-month journey by sea to Canada and a month at the youth detention facility, the children are adjusting to their new environment, according to Coilfi.

"Some of them do have a little bit of ability in English, but I think the best communication is happening beyond language," he said.

"It's the smiling and the joking and the interacting that says very clearly to the students that they're welcome here, that they're safe here, that we care deeply about their education and that we're going to work with their mothers to ensure that they get the very best of our services."

Last week, one of the migrant women gave birth at a Vancouver hospital to a healthy baby girl. About 15 of the migrants have so far been ordered released.