The formal launch meeting of the interim committee of the Non-Resident Tamils of Sri Lanka was held on 31 May 2015 in Ealing , Middlesex. It was attended by the cross sections of the Sri Lankan communities and the diverse political views.
The meeting was chaired by the interim Chairman of the association Mr V Sivalingam. The panel members of the meeting were four interim committee members NRT-SL. Mr Barry Gardiner MP made his valuable contribution in his capacity as the special guest.
The committee members briefed progress made since the formation of the association in August 2014 and detailed the importance of forming a group with the Tamil identity. Based on the achievements of the association of Non Resident Indians (NRI), the founder members explained the need for an organisation to represent the Tamils.
Following the welcome speech by the Chairman, the key member of the NRT-SL K Thambiah made his wide raging speech touching on the issues that precipitated the formation of the NRT-SL.
In his speech he said:
‘Let me begin with defining the context in which we thought of working together as Non Resident Tamils of Sri Lanka. You will all agree that the Tamil diaspora in the UK is a robust, dynamic and an upwardly mobile community. It is estimated that there are more than 300 thousand Tamils live here. They make significant contributions to the UK economy. They are respected for their hard work and professionalism. They are well integrated within their local communities. I am sure this will continue for generations to come. As much as we are proud of our British identity, we are equally proud of our identity as Tamils… Sri Lankan Tamils.
‘We in Britain are living in a multicultural society. We know each and every community maintain their socio, political and economic links with their country of origin. The degree of involvement may vary but still everyone maintain their links with their country of origin. The host countries also recognise and encourage these links. These links are also seen as one of the important part of building bilateral relationship between countries. The fact that the Rt. hon. British Prime Minister summoned members of the Tamil community to number 10 to hear their point of view before he visited Sri Lanka; is a manifestation of this understanding.
‘The main opposition Labour Party’s public pronouncements expressing concerns about Sri Lanka is also another indicator of this trend. The frequent meetings the Foreign and Commonwealth Office have with representatives of Sri Lankan Tamils including with us NRTSL; also illustrates how keen they are to engage with the diaspora. The present day diaspora activism in reality has new dimensions. The host countries’ attitude and enthusiasm to engage with the diaspora communities is seen as an integral part of international relations.
‘These changing perceptions are not confined to Tamil or Sri Lankan diaspora. This is a general trend. The globalisation along with the larger movement of population from country to country and continent to continent all contributes to the growth and enrichment of the diaspora communities in the west. This trend is most likely to continue in the coming decades. It is important for the community and social leaders like you; like us all… to understand the new context in which we are operating. It is important for us to find ways to manage these new realities in order to benefit our communities. This is the wider context in which we are thinking of working.
With regard to the formation of the NRT-SL Mr Thambiah said:
‘Now let me move on to the origin and how the idea of NRTSL was born: The word Tamil diaspora is to some extent stigmatised by the attitudes of Tamil and Sinhala extremists. I am only talking about perceptions. At present ‘Tamil diaspora’ can sometimes be projected as a hostile entity to the national interests in the mainstream Sri Lankan media and also by some influential Sri Lankan political leaders.
‘We think that the ‘Sri Lankan Government versus the Tamil diaspora’ approach is fundamentally flawed. This perception in our view is one of the main causes that prevent positive engagement for progress. There is a need to recalibrate the relationship between communities in order to break out of this stagnant mind-set. The phrase Non Resident Tamils of Sri Lanka is an attempt to articulate our identity as well as break out of the present perceptions of diaspora mind-set.
‘We are also inspired by the constructive role played by the Non Resident Indian Organisations and the institutional mechanisms and arrangements created by the Indian state to harness the expatriate resources. In short, this is the beginning of the idea and the name of the organisation and our motto ‘Engagement for Progress’
‘We as an organisation intend to engage with all the stakeholders to explore the ways in which we could work together to achieve our objectives and make progress for our community. When we say all the stakeholders we mean different organisations working in the UK, all political parties in the UK and in Sri Lanka. We also intend to further strengthen our work with the international community and institutions that are engaged in Sri Lanka to bring peace, stability and reconciliation.
‘Let me finally explain our objectives and targets that we would like to achieve. These are specific, measurable and achievable goals. We do not think that these are easily achievable; we do not underestimate the enormity of the targets we set for ourselves. The only way these goals can be realised is that many people understand and join hands with us to strengthen the work we set out to do and our targets are:
‘Lobbying for the establishment of a ‘Ministry of overseas Sri Lankans’ or to start with a ‘Department for Overseas Sri Lankans’ to engage with the non-resident Sri Lankans and continue to campaign for equitable, transparent and efficient institutional arrangements for granting of dual citizenship for anyone who desires.
‘We will campaign for the recognition of the special status of second, third, fourth generation children similar to that granted for overseas Indians in India and work for clear policies and encouragement to invite non-resident investors and professionals to participate in the task of Nation building.
‘Attractive and efficient banking procedure and facilities to increase foreign currency flow through state banking institutions, legal right to purchase land, houses, retirement homes, holiday homes and also to inherit properties
‘It is needless to say that these objectives can only be realised by the collective will and effort of all of us. This also requires commitment and hard work over a long period of time. In our view this is a gathering of well -meaning and resourceful people who can make a change. Today we call upon you all to give your candid opinion on our approach and become part of the NRTSL to work towards achieving these goals’.
Following from his speech R Jayadevan of NRT-SL explained the practical work undertaken so far. He said the work we undertook and is positively in the agenda of the new government and considered as required a process for national reconciliation.
The previous government extended the agenda of alienation of minority communities and very overt and covert measures were taken to weaken the national reconciliation process.
Dual nationality citizenship, land issues, de-proscription of the random and emotional outlawing of over 400 Tamils and Tamil organisations internationally are the issues that we heavily campaigned and intend making further impact.
‘NRT-SL delegation a met Dr Jayampathy Presidential advisor and Mr Asad Sali a member of the Central provincial Council (UNP) and a prominent member of the Muslim community. This has been productive and helped us to establish meaningful links with like-minded Muslims living in the UK and identify common concerns. On the 4th of October 2014 an NRT-SL delegation met the then opposition leader Mr Ranil Wickramasinghe when he visited London. We were able to have a brief forty minutes exchange of views which has also been productive. We also actively campaigned via the social media and contributed for the election campaign for the common Presidential Candidate.
‘NRT-SL have also requested a meeting with the All Party Parliamentary Group for Tamils- APPG-T to widen its scope to work with all the active Tamil groups and waiting for their response. NRT -SL met the FCO on the 17th February 2015 in response to an invitation by the FCO. It was an positive opportunity for networking with many Sri Lanka organisations. 5th of March 2015. NRT-SL members Jayathevan, Roger and Thamba took part in the interactive question and answer session organised by the conservative candidate for Harrow West; Hannah David in their local Party office at 10 Village Way Pinner. Hon. Hugo Swire -Minister of state for Foreign and Commonwealth office attended and briefed a group of Sri Lankans. Mr Swire briefed the audience about his visit to Sri Lanka and also explained the British Government’s position on Sri Lankan matters.
‘9th March 2015: NRTSL representatives Roger and Jeyathevan met the visiting Sri Lankan President and the Minister for resettlement Mr D. M Swaminathan along with a group of interested people at the London Hilton. Draft profile of the NRTSL was given to them and our position to engage with the GOSL in order to meet the needs of the Non Resident Tamils was conveyed March 10th 2105: Thamba had an opportunity to meet Rehabilitation minister Mr Swaminathan. Discussed in length about the objectives and our desire to engage with the GOSL in order to meet the needs of the non-resident Tamils.
‘NRTSL participated when the labour candidates visited the Alperton Temple and took the opportunity to explain the objectives of the NRTSL and we are also engaging with the NRI’s with the view to understand their successful history and positive contributions to India.
The guest speaker Mr Barry Gardiner expressed his concerns of international engagement losing its momentum due to the change of government. He stressed the need for rights of Tamils are being fully recognised in Sri Lanka. In his speech, he expressed the underlying feelings of the Tamils in his constituency and was pessimistic things will much change due to fundamental flaws in the governance in Sri Lanka.
During interactive discussions with the audience, the panel members touched on wide raging issues. All of them expressed the need to bring about good governance practices. Three Sinhalese in the audience expressed their displeasure on the failures in Sri Lanka and one member went to the extent of saying his experience of inability to reach the energetic Tamil community leaders to undertake socio-economic projects in the north of Sri Lanka. Another said use of substance is a phenomenon experienced all over Sri Lanka.
A leading Muslim representative welcome the initiative to forma the NRT-SL and that his association will interactively engage with the group.
There was deep down frustration expressed by Tamil audience and one went to the extent of expressing his displeasure of the systematic failure of the successive Sri Lankan governments to deal with the Tamil issue sensibly. He reflected breakdown of trust between the community.
Following the vote of thanks by Dr Ravee who also expressed his views on the need to engage proactively take forward the agenda of the NT-SL.