Sri Lankan refugee

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2017-02-17

This newspaper's lead story yesterday was Premier Ranil Wickremesinghe's appeal to Sri Lankan asylum seekers in Australia to return to the island with the promise that they won't be persecuted.

'...Come back. All is forgiven....,' he's said, on his recent tour to Australia.

Refugees from Sri Lanka, first entered the country's lexicon after the events that took place in the country's political and economic landscape 40 years ago in July '77, in a watershed general election held then. Prior to '77, 'Sri Lankan refugees' was not there in the English vocabulary.

From an economic perspective, the change of government in '77 saw the transformation of the island's landscape, from an inward looking, closed, conservative and protectionist economy, to an outward looking, open and a liberal economy.

On the political front, a landmark event also took place in the country's then, short, 29-year-old history of independence.

It also saw, for the first time, the then minority racist political party, the TULF, belonging to the country's minority Jaffna Tamil community, the island's single largest ethnic minority group, which predominates the country's Northern Province , who, together with their Tamil brethren in the East, form the single largest ethnic group in the Eastern Province, being successfully elected to Parliament as Sri Lanka's main opposition party, having had contested on the separatist ticket from those two geographical areas of Sri Lanka.

There was then no Sixth Amendment to the Constitution, a law which was passed 'too little, too late,' after the horrors of July '83, making separatism an offence, an action akin to closing the stable door after the horse has bolted.

Nonetheless, July '83 was a turning point in the country's history, adding fuel to the fire that was the island's refugee syndrome, which, however, had its beginnings after the events that overshadowed the country's political and economic landscape in July '77.

The gigantic irrigation schemes in the South that were started by the government which was elected to power in Colombo in July '77, virtually cut off the need for the South, where, 'coincidentally' the bulk of Sri Lanka's majority Sinhala population, some 75-77% live, of having to depend on the North for their subsistence.

Sri Lanka was then suffering from double digit unemployment and if the lowly agriculture sector now supports 30% of the country's employed population, it may have had been as high as 40% then. But with agriculture, particularly in the North, suffering from the vast irrigation projects launched in the South, that, further fuelled unemployment in the North, providing fodder for the separatist political groupings in the North who were overtly and covertly supporting the armed Tamil terrorist groups from that area of the island.

Meanwhile, Sri Lanka's then Opposition Leader Appapillai Amirthalingam, a Jaffna Tamil leading the then separatist TULF Party, supported by Indira Gandhi's India which was hostile towards Colombo, continued to espouse separatism, while arousing Sinhala passions by condoning Tamil separatist terrorist actions of political murders, destruction to State assets, robberies of State banks and the killing of members of the Security Forces and the Police, where those terrorists were provided a safe haven in Tamil Nadu (TN) by Gandhi's stooge, M. G. Ramachandran, the then TN Chief Minister.

That may have been the beginning of the lexicon, 'Sri Lankan 'refugee', entering the English vocabulary, albeit from a distorted and perverted sense, and not afterwards.

In that context, Sri Lanka's 'refugee' community, leading from the events that took place after July '77 and up to and following July '83 and subsequently July '87 (the second JVP uprising in the South), comprises three elements.

Those are, primarily, at the beginning, terrorist elements, followed by economic elements and lastly, bona fide political refugees suffering from the horrors of the North-East wars and the events that took place in the South in July '83, coupled with the second JVP insurrection of July '87.
'July' has also dominated Sri Lanka's political and economic landscape in the past 40 years, beginning with July '77, running up to July '83 and ending up in 'July '87, which also saw the enforcement of the dubious Indo-Sri Lanka Peace Accord.

Even prior to July '83, thousands of Tamils, especially those of Jaffna descent, sought refuge in, the then, West Germany, aided by the liberal policies practised by the Bonn Government.

But the guess in everybody's lips then, was that those refugees from the North, and, probably from Trincomalee in the East as well, generally, identified by the Jaffna Tamils as those belonging to their 'community' as opposed to the Batticaloa Tamils from the East, more often than not allegedly looked down upon by them, in reality being economic refugees, no different to a sizeable chunk of the so called refugee community in Australia, especially after the transformation of the island's political landscape on 8 January 2015.

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