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New Wave

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This week both Australia and Canada are confronted by yet more ships carrying yet more Tamils fleeing yet another murderous Sinhala regime in Sri Lanka. These unfortunates are, by no means, the first Tamils to come to the West thus and, until the international community decisively confronts the repressive ethnocracy masquerading as a democracy in Sri Lanka, they will undoubtedly be followed by many more.


Lest it be forgotten, the - now much studied and talked about - Tamil Diaspora in the West is the product of waves of flight from Sinhala persecution over the past four decades. As we - and some clear eyed international analysts – have repeatedly warned, Sri Lanka’s repression is fast deepening, fuelled by the triumphalism of Sinhala victory in the war against the Tamil (Tiger)s, and confidence in international inaction. What is also important is that the logic of racial hierarchy and exclusion embedded in the Sri Lankan state has long celebrated the flight of Tamil aliens from a space considered to have been bequeathed to the Sinhalese by Buddha himself.


Whilst a few Tamils migrated to Britain and other Western states before 1983, the Black July anti-Tamil pogrom was a watershed. Since then, hundreds of thousands of Tamils have fled Sinhala oppression, seeking refugee in neighbouring India and in the West. Others have scattered across Asia and even some African places. Whilst ‘Mother’ India penned many of our people in refugee camps, those who were able to overcome the often pitiless hostility of Western immigration were able to successfully rebuild their lives. As a community we have struggled, worked incredibly hard and done just that: we now constitute one of the most integrated and successful Diaspora communities in the West. We can be justifiably proud of ourselves.


The possibility that Sinhala oppression could be ended by Norwegian-led international ‘peace’ intervention temporarily slowed the flow of escapees, but the brutality of Sri Lanka’s renewed war has created a new groundswell of fear and loathing amongst the island’s Tamils. It was only a matter of time before the fleeing began anew. The mass-killings this year of tens of thousands of Tamils and the casual incarceration of the entire Vanni population – all under international scrutiny – has decisively spurred the primary driver of the now forty-year old Tamil outflow from the island: a thoroughly ‘well founded fear of persecution’.


This year the Diaspora has become an object of intense scrutiny and study. Western states, it appears, want to understand us: who exactly we are, how we belong, think, calculate and feel. Some of these studies’ sponsors want to know whether the Diaspora can be ‘peace-builders’ or a vehicle for ‘development’ in Sri Lanka (notions that are as discordant with the realities of race relations in that horrific place as Western interpretations of Tamil economic transactions in Sri Lanka are simplistic).


What is striking – and, quite frankly, laughable - is how none of these studies are particularly concerned with how ‘the Tamil Diaspora’ came to exist in the first place! Were this to be considered, the dynamics of Sri Lankan state repression, of execution, torture and rape by the ‘security forces’, and of exploitation by the ethnic supremacy embedded in state and society would be laid clearly open: the survivors of thirty years of Sinhala rule are here, in the West no less, to tell their stories.


The Diaspora will gradually be joined by yet more Tamils who, when confronting the stark choice faced by refugees the world over for millennia – stay and die or die escaping – opt to flee. They know where their fellow Tamils are living safely. They know –as did we, when we fled – that the slimmest chance away from Sinhala hegemony is all they need to thrive anew. (Recall how when the peace process came in 2002, the Tamils rebuilt war-ravaged Kilinochchi and Mullaitivu within months and contrast this with Sinhala-governed Tamil places).


The Diaspora must embrace our people when they come seeking refuge. We must encourage, even demand, that the international community – especially the powerful Western liberal states where many of us now reside –be compassionate, just and honourable. Because we too know the brutal realities of Sinhala persecution. Actually the world does too – though for decades it has chosen to look away, blaming our people’s resistance for their persecution.


At the same time, we must be unrelenting in insisting the international community confront the Sinhala chauvinism that seeks relentlessly to render impossible the Tamils succeeding as a people in their own historic homeland. It is not forgotten how, before the Sinhalese were handed rule over us on a platter, we had in Eelam all that we have rebuilt in the West.

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