[XAVIER FAMILY PHOTO] Mary Xavier-Pierce (left) grew up in Sri Lanka. “We had to flee so suddenly, we didn’t really pack much but grabbed what we needed and left overnight,” she says.
The alleged collapse of the Tamil Tigers in Sri Lanka yesterday has members of the Sinhalese community celebrating. “There was a sense of great relief because 20 million citizens of Sri Lanka had been going through a real nightmare of not knowing when they would be struck down,” says Mahinda Gunasekera, honorary president of the Sri Lanka United National Association of Canada.
He is all too familiar with the civil war –pitting north against south, government versus rebels, Sinhalese opposite Tamils-that has plagued the island for over 25 years, killing around 70,000 people.
“This is not a time for happiness,” says Scarborough-Agincourt Member of Parliament Jim Karygiannis, who estimates 3,000 Tamils are living in his riding.
Karygiannis visited the island in 2005. He says he was impressed by the work being done by the Tigers to rebuild. “They were moving very quickly to overcome the tsunami. In the government-controlled territory, little was being done.”
The Liberal MP isn’t afraid to throw around ‘the G word.’ “I wouldn’t hesitate to say it’s genocide in the making, but both sides are at fault here.”
Mary Xavier-Pierce, 28, grew up in Kayts, north of Sri Lanka. “It was sad we lived in fear of the country we were born in,” she says, adding she didn’t understand why people were fighting to separate the nation. Her family fled to Colombo, then fled again to Canada in 1992, eventually settling in Scarborough. “I am saddened for all the blood that has been shed but I am also glad it has come to an end.”
Karygiannis is critical of the Conservative Canadian government “sitting on its laurels” and says international intervention is overdue. “We’re heading down to Washington, D.C. to see if we can do a little bit of persuasion.”
Moving forward, he has a few other items on his agenda, including fast-tracking sponsorship applications and fund-raising. Sending money back home is a priority for many Sri Lankans in Canada, who would like to see family members rehabilitated and resettled.
But there are skeptics who say the money never makes it to their relatives. “It goes to the government and they use it for the Sinhalese, and the Tamil people aren’t getting anything,” says Birdy Thanabalasingam, a 14-year-old student at Gordon Graydon Secondary School in Mississauga. Gunasekera disagrees, and says his organization has sent food, medicine, clothing and other essential items. “It gets to the Tamil civilians who have been displaced.”
Karygiannis says he would like to see willingness from Tamils and Sinhalese to get together, but acknowledges it may take awhile. “It’s not an easy time.” There is hope for amicable relations between the two communities in Canada, but not Sri Lanka, Thanabalasingam says. “People get along way better here.” The student has one wish for relations between the two groups in Sri Lanka. “I think they should become equal and share.”
[Article published in South-Asian Outlook, click here to read.]