Sri Lankans are fleeing the land of their birth by the hundreds each week even to countries that do not hold out much prospects for them. The bulk comprises the poorest of the poor. Refugees who on selling their meagre possessions – their plots of land, homes and jewellery – take enormous risks with their lives in stormy seas in search of a better life. This exodus commenced during the conflict with the LTTE and it could be justified to a certain extent at that time because of the violence that erupted threatened all. But now the so called ‘War’ has ceased to be but the outflow of refugees not only continues but appears to be increasing.
Any government that cares for its people should be gravely concerned about the continuing exodus of its people. The Rajapaksa regime is attempting to stop those fleeing by deploying its naval craft but this is like attempting to stop an outflow from a massive reservoir by plugging a leak with one’s finger. Detection of the Sri Lankan refugees attempting to get away is good but is no solution. The numbers will undoubtedly multiply unless and until the causes for the drain are identified and remedied.
The reasons are many and unless these forces are identified and defused, they will converge into a mighty stream flowing out. The Rajapaksa regime, well and good, has won the ‘War’ but is there peace? Are the Tamils who were caught up in the ’War’ but had little or nothing to do with it now satisfied with the prevalent living conditions? Do they feel they are citizens with the same status and rights as those of the Sinhalese? Can they be assured that their children could have a bright future in this country? Is this a country where Law and Order prevails and justice can be assured for one and all?
These are questions that leaders of this country are bound to ask, inquire and find solutions to if they are to bring about a united Sri Lanka which they wax on quite often. But after three years of peace has there been even a semblance of what can be expected? Tamils are answering these questions physically by taking off in ramshackle boats into stormy seas irrespective of the terrible dangers that they will confront. Their desperation is such that the amount paid to human smugglers taking them to countries such as Australia and Canada vary from US$ 25,000 to US$ 50,000 per person according to some human rights organizations.
Had the Rajapaksa government moved immediately after the defeat of the LTTE to have a dialogue with Tamil leaders in an attempt to resolve the problem, the situation may have been different today. Instead they went on to celebrate their victory and put a Rajapaksa stamp on it by even sacking the army commander who led the armed forces! True, Tamil leaders too were reluctant to come forward and remained behind licking their wounds. But in such a situation it should have been the victor that took the leadership and showed magnanimity to the defeated.
For three years we have had a sorry exhibition of demagoguery. Pledges and claims which Rajapaksa and his siblings knew were not true were told to their supporters who also knew they were not true but cheered on their leaders for obvious gains. This mutual exhibition of demagoguery still goes on but for how long can it continue? The truism of Abraham Lincoln: You can fool some of the people all the time, all the people some of the time but not all the people all the time is coming true for Mahinda Rajapaksa. New Delhi has now got weary of his game of Snakes and Ladders with the 13th Amendment. Even the Indian media which get red carpet treatment at Temple Trees has realised it.
The Hindu says that although Mahinda Rajapaksa had said that elections to the Northern Provincial Council would be held only in September 2013 because the government needs time to update 30-year-old electoral rolls, the delay [in holding the elections this year] is ‘intriguing’. The Hindu adds: Three other elections have been held since the defeat of the LTTE in 2009 – presidential elections in January 2010; parliamentary elections in April 2010 and elections to local bodies in 2011. Northern Province voters participated in all three elections. ‘The old voters list was apparently not a problem then,’ notes The Hindu and says that the TNA which roundly won the local bodies elections suspects that it might sweep the provincial council elections too, if held.
While the refugee exodus is mainly Tamil, there are Sinhalese as well as Muslims who are seeking asylum. This may be due to harsh economic conditions despite false claims made by the government over its economic triumphs. Even though there may have been an economic growth of over 6 percent of the GDP it does not mean that all is hunky dory with the rest of the country other than the Western Province. Reports indicate that the peasantry is living in abject poverty and even the fishermen are sunk after the fuel hike. It has been said by reputed economists that a high GDP does not necessarily mean prosperity across the board as witnessed in India where the Naxalite terrorist movement is now threatening the Union of India. An even greater contributory cause to asylum seekers is the breakdown of Law and Order throughout the country. Last week in Mannar fishermen attacked the Mannar Magistrates’ Court, an unparalleled incident in this country. Rapes, homicides, armed robberies and abductions appear to be increasing in intensity although police statisticians interpret it differently. University academics are on strike demanding higher pay while the people’s representatives are enjoying the good life. The nexus between ruling party politicians, crime and political goons is becoming increasingly evident. Armed soldiers continue to be a regular feature in Jaffna despite protests by politicians and the public. More and more are likely to join the exodus from the ‘Miracle of Asia.’