This is home now but deportation is a constant threat

8th September 2006 at 01:00
Lakshan Kahawela lived in a three-storey, four-bedroom house in Sri Lanka with his parents and younger brother until they were forced to flee because of his father's political beliefs.

Lakshan was 312 and his brother, Chethiya, only 10 months old when they moved to a two-bedroom high-rise flat in Glasgow's Scotstoun. Six years on, the boys are pupils at St Clare's Primary in Drumchapel, one of 22 primaries in the city designated as receiving schools for asylum seekers.

They are bussed to school, but the distance means they do not get to go to after school clubs or visit friends who live close to school.

"The worst thing is they miss out on activities," says their father, Lakmal, 44, who is a member of the school board. "I have to take three buses to get there. It takes about 45 minutes."

Mr Kahawela, a former activist for the opposition party in Sri Lanka, who fled to avoid being arrested by the army, used to worry that his sons would have trouble learning English but now he worries that they will soon have trouble speaking their mother tongue. He and his wife, Dilhani, make a point of speaking Singalese at home.

"What if I had to go back to my country? It would be a disaster," he says.

"Even if I get refugee status, what if I go for a holiday? After 10 years, they will be lost in the country. It is like they were born here."

The possibility of the Kahawelas returning to Sri Lanka is very real.

Although Scotland has been their home since 2001, they live under the constant threat of deportation. After being refused refugee status in 2004, the family is appealing for the third and final time against the decision.

Mr Kahawela was a successful and wealthy businessman in Sri Lanka, but as an asylum seeker is unable to do paid work. He is heavily involved with several charities, is currently working on sending 30 old computers to schools in Sri Lanka and has set up ScotLanka, an organisation which aims to integrate Sri Lankans in Scotland and introduce Sri Lankan culture here.

"I miss Sri Lanka, especially the weather," he says. "I miss my work, my family and friends."

While he admits that information technology facilities in schools are better in Scotland, he believes the education system in Sri Lanka is superior. However, he has built up a life here and this is where he wants to stay.

Lakshan and Chethiya are playing with a cricket bat and ball in the hall on the third floor of their high-rise block of flats, dressed in their smart school uniform and very content. They are more interested in cricket and watching television than they are in talking about school. Lakshan, who is in P5 and enjoys doing sums, says golden time is his favourite because he can play card games. The response from his brother is the same.

"I do not remember living in Sri Lanka," says Lakshan. "I don't like speaking Singlaese. I like playing with my bike and outside with my friends. I've got hundreds of friends."

Chethiya, who has a noticeable Scottish accent, has just started Primary 2.

He is frustrated that he cannot play in the big children's playground until next year, but otherwise he likes school.

His father looks at his sons and shakes his head. "In four years' time I will need an interpreter to understand their Glasgow accent."

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