Expulsion of Tamil Citizens from Colombo

Dr. Devanesan Nesiah

Large numbers of Tamil citizens of Sri Lanka of North/East origin and temporarily resident outside that region are being asked to explain why they are outside their ‘homeland’ and, if they cannot furnish explanations to the satisfaction of the authorities, are being ordered to return forthwith to that ‘home land’ or face arrest and detention. Any citizen, irrespective of ethnicity, may have a hundred legitimate reasons to be in Colombo or any other part of the island. Unless there are adequate reasons to warrant a legitimate suspicion of criminal involvement, there is no justification for such expulsion. In any case, a person’s ethnic identity is irrelevant. Ethnic profiling in such relocation amounts to ethnic cleansing. Citizenship is undifferentiated, and every citizen in any country, whether unitary or federal, has the right to live, study, work or move freely in every part of the island.

During World War 2, President Roosevelt notoriously ordered the internment of resident US citizens of Japanese origin. Presumably US citizens of Japanese origin were expected to return to their Japanese ‘homeland’. Two of the persons so interned appealed against this act of injustice. US society and the US Supreme Court, at that time, were racist, and the Supreme Court upheld the internment justifying the racist profiling In the context of the ongoing war. US citizens of Japanese ethnicity as well as human rights activists resumed their campaign on this issue in due course. Eventually, nearly half a century later, the US President acknowledged that the internment was racist and unwarranted. There was a belated apology and some compensation was paid to the descendants of those interned.

There have been many instances in history of non-citizens being expelled and even of citizens being first deprived of citizenship and then expelled.

In South Africa under Apartheid, Blacks were often arbitrarily deported to their ‘tribal homeland’. Palestinians in Zionist Israel may suffer similar deportation to a Palestinian enclave.

Our own record has been dismal. There are over one hundred thousand refugees in India and much larger numbers in other countries.

In a single act of ethnic cleansing, the entire Muslim population of the North was evicted. Very large numbers of Sinhalese, Tamil and Muslims have been and remain internally displaced.

Such acts of ethnic cleansing were all condemned as unlawful and unethical. Are we now becoming a society in which residential segregation on ethnic lines and ethnic cleansing are accepted as legitimate?

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