Sikh Refugees Hold Reunion in Town Where They Fled 17 Years Ago

July 14, 2004

Source: Globe and Mail

On July 14, 2004 the Globe and Mail reported, "Avtar Sandhu this week walked the rocky stretch of beach at Charlesville, N.S., that marked the beginning of a life in Canada, marvelling at a glorious cerulean seascape beneath a matching, cloudless sky. This was not the view the Toronto tradesman saw when he first set soaking feet on these shores 17 years ago, but he insisted the scene that day was just as sweet. In the chilly and foggy predawn hours of July 12, 1987, 173 men and one woman waded ashore after being dropped by a Costa Rican freighter sailing from Rotterdam. It was the end of a 19-day journey; a flight from persecution over their Sikh religious beliefs in their homeland of India that grabbed international headlines. On Monday, more than 70 of the refugees and their wives and children returned to Charlesville to thank the village, and one man in particular -- Vernon Malone -- for help on that frightening night. 'I can never forget that night. I remember it every single day,' said Mr. Sandhu, now 48 years old and a resident of Toronto, where he works in construction as a drywaller. 'Vernon's heart is very big. He was a helpful man. We were very scared that day. We were scared on the boat. When we got here, people were so kind to us.' Mr. Sandhu, who organized the reunion with fellow refugee Nirmal Singh Chahal, a 47-year-old factory worker also living in Toronto, thanked Mr. Malone by descending on his white, three-bedroom bungalow with some six dozen of his closest friends and family."