British parliamentarians from across the political spectrum joined the British Tamil community to celebrate the Tamil harvest festival of Thai Pongal, at events held at the Houses of Parliament this week.
Over two days of celebrations, parliamentarians joined local Tamils in traditional celebrations involving musical performances, speeches and generous servings of sweet pongal.
Several lawmakers highlighted the invaluable contribution that the Tamil community has made to life in the United Kingdom, as they too dressed in tradiaiotnal Tamil outfits and took part in festivities.
“We have come to celebrate but also remember the injustice that has been done,” said Barry Gardiner, the Shadow Secretary of State for International Trade.
Robert Halfon, parliamentarian and Chair of the Education Committee said that the situation in Sri Lanka is “very simple to me”. He went on to state,
“I believe in justice, I believe in self-determination. And I believe that the Tamils suffered a terrible genocide for many years. And I believe those things need to be recognised internationally. I believe that you should have the self-determination and the autonomy that you deserve.”
“And I think that the people who committed this genocide and this war and who imprisoned thousands and thousands of Tamils... they should be held accountable at the International Court of Justice at The Hague. Too many people have carried out crimes for too long and gotten away with those crimes. We need to start by making sure that the genocide is recognised internationally, because that is what you have all suffered.”
Sir Ed Davey, the co-Leader of the Liberal Democrats, said that whilst they had gathered to “celebrate this joyous occasion, we should remember our friends, our Tamil brothers and sisters in Sri Lanka who are still under oppression, discrimination, harassment and who still don’t get their human rights or political rights, acknowledged by the government in Colombo”.
“After the recent election, when we saw President Rajapaksa elected – and we know his record – we worry even more,” he added.
“Here in the British parliament we need to send a message cross party. The British government should send a clear message that Britain wants the United Nations to hold Sri Lanka to account. That it wants the whole international community to hold Sri Lanka to account.”
Labour parliamentarian Wes Streeting meanwhile noted,
"As well as holding the government of Sri Lanka to account, our government also needs to make sure that particularly in terms of the treatment of refugees in this country, that people who have made the UK their home can call it a permanent home and are granted the refugee status to which they are entitled and don’t have to fear for their own future."
"As an All Party Parliamentary Group one of our genuine successes is working in a cross party way, so whether we have a Labour government or a Conservative government we can still deliver. And that’s what we plan to do… We’ll make sure this is high not just on parliament’s agenda or even on our government’s agenda, but that it remains high on the international community’s agenda."