A Tamil diaspora group urged the Sri Lankan Government to establish a ‘Ministry for Overseas Sri Lankan affairs’.
The Non Resident Tamils of Sri Lanka (NRTSL) a group lobbying to promote the interests of Non-Resident Tamils of Sri Lankan origin in the UK organised a event to launch their cause on the 31st of May 2015. This event took place at the Barn Hill Community Centre, Hayes, Middlesex.
Following is the text of the speech by one of its founder members, Shanthan Thamba, outlining the objectives of the organisation.
Our guest of honour Right honourable Barry Gardener MP
Friends, Ladies and gentlemen
First of all I would like to welcome you all once again on behalf of the NRTSL for making this effort to be here this evening. I know how precious Sunday evening is, and I appreciate that extra effort that you made to be here today. We will try our best not to disappoint you.
I must also thank my colleagues and the founder members of the NRTSL for giving me this opportunity to outline the objectives and the vision of the NRTSL.
I will try to do this as best as I can; within the time I was given.
I am aware that all of you have a fairly wide ranging understanding and experience of the Tamil expatriate social and political scene here in the UK.
The objective of this meeting today is to share with you the origins of the idea of the NRTSL and also to listen to your valuable opinions and contributions to further develop this concept.
Those who are here today are all invited by the founder members of the NRTSL. In our opinion…. you are all active in the community in different spheres and also have a desire to move our community forward.
I must also say that the NRTSL is still in its formative stage and the direction and the effectiveness of it will be influenced and shaped by your inputs and positive contributions.
In other words this is an opportunity for us to tell you what we are trying to achieve.
More importantly we would like to listen to your views about this idea and also your suggestions about how to move forward.
Friends Ladies and gentlemen
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.
What I am trying to say here is; that 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.
Ladies and gentlemen
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.
Our motto ‘Engagement for Progress’
We as an organisation intend to engage with all the stake holders 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 stake holders 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.
Ladies and gentlemen
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.
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
Continue to campaign for equitable, transparent and efficient institutional arrangements for granting of Dual citizenship for anyone who desires.
Campaign for the recognition of the special status of second, third, fourth generation children similar to that granted for overseas Indians in India.
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.