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Eelam Tamil Refugees and Sri Lankan State Terrorism

by Vettivel, March 18, 2008

The Sri Lankan terror state left only three choices for an average Tamil: (1) be a Tamil freedom fighter and fight against the state terror well armed military, (2) be a soft target to state terrorism and accept whatever happens, including intermitted organized riots and arbitrary killings, or (3) be a refugee and leave the county. In reality, majority of the Tamils fall under the second category and they have no choice other than living under state terror forces and be continuously terrorized by the Sinhala military.

Eelam Tamils left their homeland due to state terrorism that started immediately after the Sinhala majority was given power to rule Tamils by the British in 1948 at the end of colonial rule. For almost 30 years unarmed Tamil protests against Sinhala state terrorism did not stop colonization of Tamil areas, military occupation, killings of innocent Tamil civilians or periodic pogroms perpetrated by the Sri Lankan government. The Sri Lankan version of ‘democracy,’ in which minority rights are ruled out for majority comforts and racist agenda, allows no room for Tamils to exercise their rights. The Sri Lankan government gave only three choices for Eelam Tamils; that is

  1. fighting against a fully armed state terror military,
  2. living under a state terror rule and giving up rights and wealth, or
  3. leaving the country and surrendering to other nations as refugees.

Tamils started to leave their homeland in the 1950s following the Sri Lankan state-sponsored pogrom in 1958. People who fled the country were low in numbers until the early 1970s. The rate of leaving the homeland was escalated in the 1980s following the Sri Lankan state terror pogrom in 1983.

Eelam Tamils arriving as refugees in India from Sri Lanka 2006
Eelam Tamil refugees arriving in India 2006


For the Eelam Tamil community, there is no other reason to leave the county other than state terrorism. It is well known that Tamils were economically very strong because of their work in the administrative and academic sectors in the colonial era, and they are well known for their hardworking and thrifty nature. In simple terms, hardly any Eelam Tamil would leave their homeland for economic reasons. In a more concrete sense, if the Sinhala army was not occupying the Tamil homeland, Tamils wouldn’t leave.  The reiterative fact here is that the Tamil militancy escalated after the 1983 riots. Before 1983, Tamils did not have any military power to fight against Sri Lankan state terrorism. All what they did was waging non-violent protests and casting votes against the Sinhala government, while receiving all sorts of state terrorism that includes killings, raping, torture, colonization, and occupation.

Most of the first generation Eelam Tamil diaspora living in western and European countries arrived as refugees and, once granted refugee status, then their family was granted visas for reunion. There is no secret about this. There is no reason for Tamils to be ashamed of this, because it is not their fault. The Sri Lankan government must be ashamed of this. It is the Sri Lankan government’s fault that Tamils have been paying the price for the genocidal war carried out by the Sinhala-dominated state terror government since 1948. While the oppressed Eelam Tamil community is paying the price, on the other hand, the aggressive Sinhala-dominated terror state is rewarded by many international nations.

As mentioned earlier, the Sri Lankan terror state left only three choices for an average Tamil: (1) be a Tamil freedom fighter and fight against the state terror well armed military, (2) be a soft target to the state terrorist and accept whatever happens including intermitted organized riots and arbitrary killings, or (3) be a refugee and leave the county. In reality, majority of the Tamils fall under the second category and they have no choice other than living under state terror forces and be continuously terrorized by the Sinhala military.

Eelam Tamils from Sri Lanka on World Refugee Day June 2007 on Nauru island in South Pacific
Eelam Tamil refugees on Nauru, World Refugee Week, June 2007


The first category, comparably around 5% of Eelam Tamils, made the first choice: that is to fight against state terrorism. Naturally, any living creature reacts to its enemy and uses all its fighting power to save itself from the enemy. When the Sri Lankan terror state waged a war against Tamils, a significant number of Tamil youths chose to fight against the state terror government, even though the government had huge military and logistic advantages over the Tamil fighters.

When it comes to military defensive against Sinhala state terrorism, there has been only one organization, the Tamil Tigers, who constantly fight against Sri Lankan state terrorism. The rest of the Tamil militant groups were either created and supported by the Indian government for regional power purposes, or created and manipulated as a paramilitary by the Sri Lankan government for terrorizing Tamils. It is very easy to identify the Tamil freedom fighters by asking a simple question, “Does this organization fight against Sri Lankan state terrorism?” , because this is the only reason for the existence of a Tamil militant group. If it doesn’t qualify as an organization that fights against Sri Lankan state terrorism, it simply doesn’t need the name of ‘Eelam’ or ‘Tamil.’ 

Considering the Tamils who have fought against Sri Lankan state terrorism as Tamil freedom fighters, around 20,000 Tamils have been honored as war heroes because they chose the path to fight against the state terrorism. Apart from this, thousands of Tamils have been disabled during the fight against state terrorism. It is common in world history that whoever fights against a government is branded a terrorist, while the state terror government can continuously enjoy all needed support even when it commits major human right violations. The same rule has applied to the Tamil freedom fighters, the Tamil tigers, and they have been labeled as terrorists. Compared to the other two choices left to Tamils, fighting against state terrorism is self-respectful for a human being, even though they face severe hardships.

The majority of Eelam Tamils who chose the live under state terrorism face continuous humiliation and physical and mental torture every day.  Regardless to say, more than 75,000 Tamils in this category have lost their lives due to the state terrorism and the rest of the population have lost their valuable properties.

In Jaffnatoday, the scenario is that at least 7 people are being killed or abducted out of half a million total civilian population every day. Around 50,000 Sinhala state terror forces and paramilitaries confine these Eelam Tamils. The probability of one of these civilians getting killed or abducted by the Sri Lankan state terror machine is around 1 % within two years. Any human beings who live in such a scenario certainly face severe mental torture.  While Jaffna and Eastern Tamils face a Sri Lankan state terror confinement and arbitrary abductions and torture, Tamils in Colombo and other part of the country face continuous oppression, such as arbitrary abductions and killings, regular arrests and humiliations. The sad part of the lives of these Eelam Tamils is that the abductions and killings by the Sri Lankan state terror military and paramilitary are treated as Normal by many international organizations including human right organizations. It is very difficult to enjoy a life when there is no freedom or dignity, even worse under constant threat. Eelam Tamils under Sri Lankan state terrorism are currently facing these severe hardships.

The third category of Eelam Tamils, those who chose to leave their homeland and start a new life in an unfamiliar region, faced some hardship initially. Being a refugee is really hard since it impacts a person’s self respect and feelings. Considering,\ the danger under Sinhala state terrorism, many Tamils happily chose this option. Due to the tremendous support from the western and European governments for refugees and open minded civilized people, these Tamils have overcome many challenges and laid a strong Eelam Tamil foundation in the western and European world.  A significant number of Tamil refugees have arrived India, but they have not been able to establish themselves well other than saving their lives.

Apart from the refugees, there is a considerable Eelam Tamil population, mostly academics and skilled workers, who left their homeland, and settled down in western and European countries as well around the world. Even though this group may not fall under refugee category officially, this part of the population of Eelam Tamils also need to be fit in the third category because these people chose to stay in foreign lands rather than return home because of the Sri Lankan state terrorism.

During the past two decades, it is estimated that around one million Tamils have fled their home country because of state terrorism.  Internally displaced people are not considered refugees in this case. Around 100, 000 Tamil refugees live in Tamil Nadu refugee camps, while the rest of them have mostly been granted asylums in Europe and North America.  It is emotionally a very difficult decision these people had to make when they left their homeland with empty hands. Due to the threat to their lives and humiliation by the Sri Lankan state terror government and its forces, most of the refugees made this hard decision to flee the country. It is true that nowadays most of these refugees in western and European countries are wealthy people and they have acquired wealth through their 24/7 tireless hard work. However, it doesn’t mean the refugees should forgive and forget the state terror which made them leave their homeland. No justice system grants pardon for a murderer because the victim’s family got wealth from the insurance company. 

It may not be appropriate to discuss which of the choices is better for Eelam Tamils. Instead, it is very important to focus how these three categories of Eelam Tamils can work together and achieve a better solution where Eelam Tamils can live with freedom and dignity. More importantly, due to the nature of the state terrorism, only the Tamil Diaspora and the Tamil freedom fighters can work for the solution because the second category of Eelam Tamils cannot freely contribute to anything. The Tamil Diaspora must work together to bring the Sri Lankan state terrorists to the international courts for war crimes and genocide. It is also important to save the lives of the fellow Eelam Tamils back home because the Tamil Diaspora has a moral obligation.


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