Thirty-one years after parched and starving Sri Lankan refugees were found adrift in the ocean, the lifeboat that transported them to Canada is being celebrated as a beacon of hope on World Refugee Day.
“That idea of people finding hope in boats has never changed. It’s been ongoing for a thousand years,” said filmmaker Cyrus Sander Singh who brought the boat to Toronto from St.John’s, Newfoundland.
In an interview on Metro Morning, Singh explained the Sri Lankan “boat people’s” plight and how it inspired him to make a documentary about their rescue.
“They were told they would be in Montreal in four hours,” he said while telling the tale of their escape from civil war, travelling on a cargo ship through Europe and eventually being left more than 300 kilometres off the coast of Newfoundland.
‘It is a last resort when you put your family and children in boats and try to find hope.’
– Cyrus Sander Singh
“They did not know where they were. They had one motor, two lifeboats and one small bottle of fuel,” Singh said.
“It is a last resort when you put your family and children in boats and try to find hope.”
The boat, Singh explains, once carried shame for the souls who used them as a vessel to a better life. For some in the Tamil community, the “boat people” were jumping the queue.
Now, Singh and the Canadian Tamil Congress are changing the lifeboat narrative into an origin story that will be honoured Tuesday at Ryerson University’s World Refugee Day event.