1. Helping out
1.1 Heart operation
Frank and Stella Chen from Taiwan contributed AU$1,000 towards an urgent appeal for surgery for Mr David Arulappu, a deep sea diver and father of three school-going children living in Mannar. David is well known to Diaspora Lanka. An ECG confirmed serious heart problems. An angiogram revealed two blocked arteries:- one was 99% blocked and the other – 75%. Due to the severity of David’s condition, he was advised to have surgery in the private hospital system because the public waiting lists were long with no guarantee of an operation soon. As David is unable to work, he and his family have been surviving on the donations of church members. Many have donated towards his operation but local sources of funds are now exhausted, hence the appeal he made to us for the remaining AU$1,380.
1.2 Video camera
Diaspora Lanka (DL) sponsored Nishanthan so he could buy a professional quality video camera in order to make films about pressing social issues. Nishanthan is the Director of Nitharshan Movies and recent winner of multiple awards for his latest short film. He uses film to raise awareness, influence attitudes and change behaviours in the hope of creating a better Mannar society. As Mannar transitions from war to peace, freedom brings many challenges. There has been an increase in alcoholism, teenage pregnancies, domestic violence and child abuse. An effective way to raise awareness on these issues is through short film. When people see their life situations portrayed on the screen, it grabs their attention, creating an opening for personal as well as district-wide transformation. Nishanthan’s latest film about child abuse is presently being edited.
1.3 Asylum seeker support
An intensive pamphlet and media campaign by the Australian Government was waged in fishing villages across Sri Lanka, warning potential asylum seekers not to come by boat. The recent strong deterrents have reduced maritime arrivals to Australia, discouraging “economic refugees”. However the real losers are the genuine asylum seekers who are now stuck in places like Indonesia, not being able to move forward or backwards. The ‘middle men’ have abandoned them; they have no money for food or accommodation; they don’t speak the language; they’re not entitled to work; and they need to dodge police to avoid arrest and detention. Registration with the United Nations High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR) takes between three to five years so until then, there is no financial relief available to them. Diaspora Lanka has been supporting small groups of young asylum seekers from Mannar during this difficult period. We support them not out of any political affiliations but because they are fellow human beings in distress.
Activities summary from last visit to Sri Lanka
• Continued financial support for basic food, accommodation and medicinal requirements for asylum seekers in Indonesia.
• Regular contact via mobile, skype and Facebook to offer support and advice.
• Have successfully assisted some to return to Sri Lanka.
• Investigate options for those who feel they cannot return to Sri Lanka.
• Explore options for those who have returned but have no means to repay the substantial amounts loaned to them to come to Australia.
• Explore funding sources to develop employment programs for war-affected youngsters as an alternative to leaving Sri Lanka.
How you can help
• Contribute funds for short-term food, accommodation and medicinal needs.
• Assist to support unemployed young people to find local employment
• Explore ways for those asylum seekers who have returned to pay off their considerable debts.
From personal observations, encounters and interviews with youngsters from Mannar, the major reasons for their desire to “go foreign” include a hopeless future outlook, a sense of helplessness and economic difficulties, as well as “rites of passage” based reasons. In a post-war context like Mannar where international NGO funds previously propped up the district and provided generous employment opportunities, the rapid withdrawal of such donor contributions has had, and continues to have, a profound downward effect on the local economy. A depressed fiscal outlook, new aspirational goals based on internet images of the affluent west, and a need to stretch wings cramped for too long by the war, have combined to provide the impetus for such risky maritime departures. Just as an Australian young adult may turn to London or Europe to signify their passage into adulthood, so too for the Mannar youngster whose prospects aren’t assured locally, and who wants to indulge in high adventure across the seas, often accompanied by friends.
The provision of career development and employment opportunities would do much to convince many not to leave. This becomes more difficult, however, if the youngster has had a failed asylum seeker attempt and is straddled with a debt that cannot be serviced by local wages in Sri Lanka. Even after failed asylum attempts and the associated hardships, such youngsters will, once more, try to “go foreign” because of this financial sword of Damocles over their heads. How best to support such individuals remain a quandary.