Island trouble

6th May 2005 at 01:00
Tsunamis, terrorists and gang wars have affected many Sri Lankan Tamils, writes James Heartfield

If your students' heads are nodding to the sound of M.I.A's "Arular", they are listening to a back-handed tribute to a founding member of the militant guerrilla group, Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam, by his daughter Maya Arulpragasam. M.I.A.s 27-year-old singer grew up as one of the refugees from the civil war with Sri Lanka's Sinhalese-based government that has swelled their number to 110,000 in the UK.

Tamils who have made their home in Britain include the editor of Poetry London in the 1940s, James Tambimuttu. Others have made their contribution in India - tennis star Vijay Armitraj and chess grandmaster, number two in the world, Viswanathan Anand.

British Tamils were at the forefront of the fund-raising for tsunami victims as they were critical of the Sri Lankan government's one-sided aid effort. Since 2000, 10 London Tamils have been killed in inter-gang violence, leading to a climate of fear in the community and scores of arrests.

Unlike other Commonwealth countries, Britain grants asylum to relatively few Tamil refugees, taking a much more generous view of the Sri Lankan government's intentions in the peace talks with the Tamil separatists.

Unfortunately, that means forced deportations, says Vanshees Jana at the Tamil Welfare Association. Already traumatised by the experience of war, they are likely to be anxious about their future here.

Last summer in northern Ireland, Kousalya Somasundram sat her GCSEs under the threat of deportation, though her parents took her there in 2001 after her brother was killed in the fighting. The Somasundram's cause was supported by Kousalya's school, Newtownbreda high, community churches and the local Sinn Fein representative.

Most Tamils in Britain are sympathetic to the cause of national independence, though some are seeking asylum on grounds of persecution by the Tamil Tigers, recently pressured to stop the recruitment of boy soldiers. Education in the Tamil areas is rudimentary.

Many welcome a return to a free country but fear being prematurely deported to a war zone. Over time, however, many are putting down roots here. There are Tamil communities in East Ham, Wembley, Tooting and Chessington, and they are among the principal devotees at London's 10 Hindu temples.


* Recent immigrants may be traumatised and withdrawn, but younger children are likely to adapt quickly to their new surrounds.

* Don't assume identification either with the Tamil cause or the government in Sri Lanka - there are any number of reasons why Tamils might be here, including persecution by all sides.

* Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (Tamil Tigers) are proscribed as a terrorist organisation under the 2001 amendment to the Prevention of Terrorism Act

* The film, In the Name of Buddha, is a powerful but violent account of the civil war from the Tamil point of view. Not recommended for general classroom viewing.


* Tamil Welfare Association, 602 Romford Road, London E12 5AF. Telephone: 020 8478 0577, contact Vanshees Jana. The association runs a supplementary school on Sunday from 9.30am to 2.30pm at the Little Ilford school, Browning Road, Manor Park

* The Middlesex Tamil Sports and Social Club, 1 Acacia Avenue, Wembley HA9 7JF. Telephone: 020 8903 9333. Runs cricket, football and netball practice for children aged six to 16, though there is a subscription charge

* South London Tamil Welfare Group, 36 High Street, Colliers Wood SW19 2AB.

Telephone: 020 8542 3285

* The Refugee Council has booklets on maths and science in Tamil and English, at pound;3.20. Most London libraries offer children's books in Tamil, but Newham borough's East Ham library is probably the most comprehensive. Contact Anjali Das. telephone: 020 8430 3650, or email

* Tamil tsunami fund: Telephone: 0870 609 1053, website:


English - Tamil

Yes - Am-ma-an

No - Il-le

Hello - Va-nak-kam

Goodbye - Poi-too va-rayn

Please - Dai-va-sed-hu

Thank you - Nan-dree

What's your name - Unga per ennanga?

I don't understand - Puriyavillai

(Tamil is not written in Roman alphabet, so these are all phonetic)

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