One’s Burden Is One’s Freedom: Rejected Refugees in the Context of Sri Lanka

ASIA--PACIFIC, 5 Aug 2013

Udaya R. Tennakoon – TRANSCEND Media Service

Asylum seekers are not refugees but they are refugees without rights to be refugees. From a victim to be a refugee, the context of distance is legally bounded in universal human rights as well as state level rules and laws in a second or a third country of refugees. It is complicated in practice to decide whether that is qualified for refugee or not, even though there is a political and a social sense to determine human beings, who wish to be as a refugee. In the stratification of human history, refugees are brought to the last and bottom strata in the society having with fragile identity.  But even it is so, in the global context, if someone falls down to be a refugee, it is not easy to enter into that level, as it is a competitive and complicated human tragedy. In the process of human smuggling and trafficking, it is a place of dealers. Without thinking the depth of human hope and sense, smugglers concentrate only money. Being a refugee in a detention camp, or in UNHCR or in a third world country, it is completely different from the western European or other rich contexts. With comparison of their own country situation, victims who come and asking for refugee in another country is relatively ideal for living in the sense of reality of their own. Freedom, democracy and well being are assured and diversity is working. Even if it is economical, political, religious or social, those who come as refugees are assured. Nevertheless, in the same time, it creates a trouble, when the hopes of asylum seekers are collapsed down at the situation of so called paradise of their dream.


As a whole, living with refugees for more than three years having taken a new identity as an asylum seeker and later as a refugee, I feel the mentality and uncertainty, that is domesticated itself in the process of the conformity for refugees. I am insisted to take down this note as a right and also as a duty in a given reality in regards of Sri Lankan unaccepted refugees.

I was  in a common camp with the diversity of the mixture of different people have come/are coming from around the world and tuning my ears into the voices and noises of various languages. Common kitchen is the smell of universality and culture of food is the image of transformative civilization. In the diversity and complexity, people are gradually domesticating to the culture of reality. Everybody learns at least a few words including basic words in the language, in which the people in country use as their national tongue. Refugee People are accepted or not, but everybody is provided facility to go to school to learn language. For a short term or a long term, hosted country expects the refugees to bring up in order to their culture and order. It is called integration. In my experience, Switzerland where I am belonged to, tries its best to teach and give their identity of multi culture. It spends relatively lot money for language courses. It may be German, French or Italian, where the people are belonged to.

I am with the other for about 30 people came from Sri Lanka during the war, before the war or after the   war. I am the one of persons who comes  for that Camp from Majority Sinhalese and the others are from the minority Tamils speaking who have being suffering from a historical problem that has to be  get solved. The problem is still running in another arena with the same grievances and only thing is that there is no such a struggle as earlier. Keeping my own case a side, let me to turn to side of the people who are suffering from the unaccepted situation reflecting Sri Lankan societal trauma. It is severer than the hunger. It is terrible than the death. The feeling after they fled the country for three four years ago, is growing again among the rejected people. They cultured and they leant how to live in a multicultural society more or less rather than in their own land. I met my brothers and sisters. I feel and understand the mentality. I give information for appealing what I know. Some are trying to flee for another country. Some are thinking of the debt that they have got to come to Europe. It is totally micro but when the eye of the lens zoom in to the object, it is so big. But it is invisible and irrelevant to the question of abstract.

Refugee Issue in Switzerland

Here my intention is not point my finger to anybody but the expression of my feelings of guilty of universal justice that is not common for all. I got the answer. It was positive. I became a refugee. Yes, I have a problem. In the sense of the context, I know and the authority knows the situation. In the meantime authority decides in order to the picture of developing surface of post war ground situation. In the same time, responsibility of humanity and in the context of democracy, in that, it is being discussed issues as gender, identity, rights to live, justice and so forth are forgotten and neglected, not because of the universal values but because of the internal suspicion of insecurity.

In the context of Switzerland, decisions for asylum seekers, who came from Sri Lanka are being received unprecedentedly after a long time. Everybody expects a decision from the time of registration as an asylum seeker and everybody expects a decision for settling down as a human being. Everybody expects a positive answer. But in the reality of refugee question, the government in the relevant country decides in order to their rules and regulations and base on the trustworthiness of the case. There are limits, time and space.

It is not an exaggeration. It is being heard through the voices of experienced immigrants. Switzerland is one of the best countries for refugees’ comparison to the others in Europe. According to figures, more than 40 000 Sri Lankan refugees are living there since the conflicts emerged throughout the time in post colonial Sri Lanka. In the most destructive and periods of rights and lives violation, Switzerland opened their doors and gave chances to come into the country as asylum seekers. Thank to their acceptance of human rights, willingness to respect to the others who seek protection. In return, this acceptance helps much to the relatives of the refugees, who live in Sri Lanka.  Because of  the refugees are earning money in doing different jobs in Europe, the living standard of the dependants in North and East in Sri Lanka are considerably different from others. As there is a big gap of living condition and currency rate between Sri Lanka and Europe, refugees in Europe could earn more benefits to take care their people. On the other hand, it is a great support for the people came as refugees to be a strong Diaspora. And also as a strong labor force, Tamils are significant to the Europe in Earlier times. This quality and necessity are transforming and importance is descending gradually. It is also a part of that refugee question. Open border policies and European crisis and the rest of the world refugee arrival are/may be unbearable. They want to keep the balance of figures rather than thinking of micro issues related to immigrants. Rules are strengthening in order to the context.

Responsibility: Philosophy of Human rights

In the sense of refugees, people come as seasonal birds from lack of resources or in the narrow space of freedom to have some kind of relative resources or freedom. It is fair, but in once state level context, it is a burden and it is a headache to manage these immigrants’ issue. Abstract level theoretical argument is totally problematic in the concrete level pragmatic situation in the host country. Inside policies and politics decide rather than external pressure. That is the reality in way of the immigrants who come for as economical, political and social reasons.

Throughout the last four decades, majority refugees from the minority Tamils in Sri Lanka exiled from their homeland and spread as a Diaspora in most parts of the world. In Europe, the consistence of Tamils is a considerable amount and in response, they have been contributing their strength to their second country as well as its own citizens. They have marked a specific identity as Diaspora community throughout last decades. It is a good will that the past generations earned and granted to the world of hope.

In 2009 May, Sri Lanka, it is said to the world as a peaceful country, having eliminated militarily the struggle of the Tamils, while fighting for the rights of their self determination. Europe with the other international community agrees with the environment of the symbolic end of so called elimination of Terrorism in Sri Lanka and stopping the war. In contrary, they forget the root causes of the iceberg. Forgetting all the theories of war and conflict, the responsibility throughout the history they have, is slipped and shifted for the soul and the body of capitalist profit. As it is now opened to capital for investing their desires and interest, Sri Lanka is anonymously considered as a peaceful country from the point of view of outsiders. But inside reality is a human tragedy. Post war developments focus on for the family interests of profit and political patronage. Eliminated de facto region is a land of military occupied and victims of war and the land are gradually turned into a slavery land. More than thirty years space of lack of market and capitalist investments are opened now for the greedy devils of capitalism. In many divisions, with different interests, China from one side, India from closer, Europe and the rest of the west are making policies having interrelations with corrupted, criminal regime and authoritarian undemocratic behavior. In that reality, especially so called democratic nations slowly shift their responsibility again to the demon of suppressor. The voice of Human rights organizations and other progressive people are trying to convince the human rights situation and the tragedy of the people who have become victims of the war and again as victims in post war social and political condition in Northern and Eastern parts in Sri Lanka. While it is continuing in same manner, this is a new issue outside the country has emerged as a problem for the victims of war came as refugees whose cases are not accepted. In Europe, among these people, it is as a trauma of fear has emerged for many reasons.

  1. An a security crisis
  2. As an identity crisis
  3. As an economic crisis
  4. As a Diaspora mentality crisis

The people who have come to Europe during the last phase of the war and after the war are categorized for granting refugee status under their specific measures. Apart from the personal specific cases, the others are considered as common cases. That means, authorities have decided that being a Tamil in North or East is not a threat in current situation. Argument may be partly correct. Nevertheless, once of being a Tamil and being a migrated refugee both together, is a new case for a person going back to the country as an unaccepted human being. This vicious circle of refusal affects to himself or to herself and develops in common as people and as society, not only for their identity but also damage for their whole social lives. If Europe only considers outer appearance of security, it is big failure of the evolution of western philosophy of human rights and values and justice of rights, if one is sent back to the country.  And also, according to the common justification of asylum seekers and the security, it might not happen in open or officially but base on the records of person, it may have maintained to follow up the person on behalf of defense. On the other hand, three four years living as an unaccepted refugee, the person has to go back without any hope. Living in a totally different culture, that the person practiced partly or not, the unexpected shift will be a new trauma to settle down in post war land where it is being still militarized and in a situation of victor’s peace hegemony haunted.

Solution and Dilemma

According to observations, with the refusal from the hosted country, if they might be caught up and sent back to Sri Lanka, these people try to find many alternatives. Some of them try to get contact with people who are close with Sri Lankan government (Tamil) ministers or any other power users. As they know the environment, only thing that they have to do for their security. Saying so, what does it mean?

On the other hand, Sri Lankan Diaspora Tamils who have become permanent residents or citizen in European countries, visit Sri Lanka and go to see their home, relatives and their homeland. They spent newly opened holiday resorts and travel from south to north and enjoy. They spent much money that they earned by laboring whole the time in Europe. They come back after the vacation. Then the story of the tour to their homeland must be heard and how they enjoyed. From arrival point of the airport and back to departure of the airport is a package of bribery mixed by threat and insecurity. The problem is that Tamil Diaspora people never understand this terrible situation (That means not all). One of my friends, who lived in Switzerland, has gone to Sri Lanka recently. He admires the development of infrastructure in war affected area and in the mean time he says that how he spent with military. He is happy to be with chief military officer and to have a drink together. His parent’s home is very close to the military camp. He has many friends in the camp. He said that he did not have a driving license but because of the military relationship, it does not a matter to drive. Even he did not ware Helmet, when he drives motor bike. He has given permission. What does indicate in that story? Fraud, tragedy, Diaspora politics, identity, and democracy in post war Sri Lanka and the mentality of the slavery mindset of Tamils whose behavior in apolitical context.

From the perspectives of Europe, refugee problem is a problem of up in the air in the time of world crisis. It is a burden in one side and a headache in the other side for those countries in Europe. Anywhere in the world, if there is a conflict, crisis, a war or any destructive phenomena occurs, the effects  project blowing up and down having given resistible burden of permanent. From east to west, north to south, the shift of human beings is a social, political and economical fact of reality in system of the world today we are being. Even though the so called BRICS nations are growing ahead, refugee question is not in China. Birds are not flying relatively towards China and those countries. Indirectly says that democratic culture and Human values are here not there. Europe has responsibility to protect that right not in theory but in Practice.


Udaya R. Tennakoon – Poet/ Diaspora Writer, Journalist, Peace and Human Rights Activist. Student of the World Peace Academy, University of Basel, Switzerland.


This article originally appeared on Transcend Media Service (TMS) on 5 Aug 2013.

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