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Darshika Selvasivam (left) with the Tamil Refugee coordinating committee and Katpana Nagendra (right) with the BC Canada representative of the Transnational Government of Tamil Eelam outside the immigration and refugee board in Vancouver August 17, 2010 after the IRB made a ruling on the publication ban.

John Lehmann/The Globe and Mail/John Lehmann/The Globe and Mail

Hearings for the 492 Sri Lankan migrants seeking refugee status began in Vancouver Tuesday, with limited access given to the media.

The first detainee heard was a woman - who cannot be identified. She walked into the room wearing an oversized green sweater with her hands shackled behind her back. She spoke softly - her words translated by an interpreter by phone - and seemed nervous. She was ordered to remain in custody until her identity can be established.

Ms. Leeann King, adjudicator for the Immigration and Refugee Board, ordered that the woman should be held in detention as her identity had not been established.

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The woman's defence team argued that the woman be released as it would only take a short time period to verify her identity.

" [She]arrived here with her mother who has been released from hospital, as well as a brother and father. The entire family is detained and separated," her lawyer said.

He argued that the woman should be released on bond as she has original identification documents.

"She has relatives in Toronto who are able to act as bond persons," he said.

The court said it is too early to consider bond.

Earlier, Ms. King had announced the decision to allow media into the hearings, saying that it was in the public interest for reporters to be present, but that publication bans would be in place in order to protect the migrants' identities.

The publication ban covers all pictures, sketches or video allowed into the hearings.

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"The ban will be extend to any personal information that might be discussed in the hearings and to any image of any person concerned," Ms. King said.

Lawyers for the migrants and for the Canada Border Services Agency had argued the hearings should remain closed to protect the identities of the refugee claimants.

But Ms. King ruled that opening the hearings could give the public a better understanding of who the migrants are and how they chose to undertake a difficult, illicit and expensive journey across the Pacific.

She denied a request from members of the Canadian Tamil Congress to also be allowed, saying they can get their news from reporters.

Sixteen detention reviews were expected to be heard Tuesday at the Immigration and Refugee Board in Vancouver. All of these will be women; five of those will have their cases heard by telephone.

The IRB is "hoping to go through 76 [hearings]today; 60 men and 16 women," said Melissa Anderson of the IRB.

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The detention hearings for the men will be held in the Fraser Regional Correction Centre.

Of the 492 men, women and children that arrived Friday onboard the Tamil migrant vessel Sun Sea, all of the adults are being detained by the Canada Border Service Agency. The children, according to CBSA, are being kept with their mothers in low risk facilities.

The detention hearings will only be conducted for those who are detained by CBSA.

With a report from The Canadian Press

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