Life Abroad  March 14 2015 – Migrating or seeking asylum for various reasons
Posted on March 14th, 2015

Dr.Tilak Fernando

Like human beings, animals too do many different and amazing things – some of them ‘migrate’. This means they travel to other places when the weather is very cold, the ground surface freezes and it is too hard for birds to pull worms from the soil, so they have to look elsewhere.

Individuals migrate to other destinations for various reasons, mainly for economic reasons seeking greener pastures, or for personal justifications. As far as the Sri Lankan emigration is concerned, it could be said that UK was the first country to establish immigration from Sri Lanka by taking many Tamils as refugees.

During the 1950s only a few Sri Lankans, who were ‘cultured’, well educated and the opulent type arrived in the UK and established in the British society. National Health Service in the UK opened up many opportunities to Sri Lankan doctors and consultants in the 1960s, while few others managed to secure white-collar jobs.

Towards the end of 1970s, mostly the young and less educated Sri Lankan immigrants arrived in the UK claiming numerous traumatised experiences after a youth rebel in the south and, in the late 1980s and in 1990s, during the terrorist war in the north and the east of Sri Lanka, many fled from war zones claiming ‘persecution,’ and ‘tyranny’ and seeking political asylum.

When the UK had a problem in their hands in 1979 with regard to ‘hundreds of thousands of boat people’ fleeing to the UK due to persecution in communist Vietnam, Lady Thatcher, as the Prime Minister, complained that “too many Asian immigrants were being allowed into Britain, with fears that Britain was being ‘swamped’ by immigrant cultures”. Her attitudes on race, immigration and political issues remained controversial ever since.


The Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees was established on December 14, 1950 by the United Nations General Assembly. It strives to ensure that everyone can exercise the right to seek asylum and find safe sanctuary in another State, with the option to return home voluntarily, integrate locally or to resettle in a third country. There are 36 countries in the world who are signatory to UNHCR resettlement efforts.

Nationality provides people with an identity, and allows them to practice a wide range of rights. There are approximately 12 million people worldwide who are stateless today. To overcome this problem the International Community negotiated and adopted a Convention in 1954, relating to the destiny of nationless persons to reognise the international legal status of “stateless persons,” and to demand that they enjoy human rights without discrimination.

Britain, being one of the signatories to the UNHCR, became one of the most popular states in the world for people to arrive and seek asylum. English being spoken as a universal language, added to the fact that Gt. Britain had been an empire that ruled many colonies in the world in the past, has made many asylum seekers to integrate with the British society easily.

 Economic refugees

With the passage of time immigration was made use of by various human cargo smugglers by turning it into a lucrative business and created a new breed of economic refugees into Britain. Shrewd immigration racketeers helped the guinea pigs with forged documents for which aspirants had to sell or mortgage their assets, and in certain cases completely burn their boats to pay exorbitant agency fees.

The asylum seekers started arriving in Britain at first mostly by airplane direct from an Asian or African destination and landed at either London Heathrow or Gatwick airport. Once they embarked the aeroplane the ‘victims’ were instructed by their agents to dispose of their passports in mid air (flush through the toilets!) and to pretend ‘silly and idiotic’ once they faced the immigration officers at London airports. Under such circumstances, the immigration officials immediately sent such arrivals to detention camps for illegal immigrants pending enquiries.

Smuggling agents at home in the meanwhile arranged a solicitor in London to visit the immigration detention centres and bail their clients out. United Kingdom being committed to the UNCHR agreements was legally bound to accept such influxes and treat them as asylum seekers; they were given an identity card to that effect, while the Local Councils helped with accommodation in council houses or in a bed and breakfast hotel with all rents paid by the British tax payer!

Publicly funded

British Law Society maintains an approved list of immigration advisers who are specially qualified on the subject. Legal Services Commission (LSC) used to pay some solicitors for assisting an asylum seeker out of a fund called Legal Aid. Seemingly it gave rise to a new breed of ‘immigration solicitors’ out of asylum seekers by simply processing ‘legal aid’ work. Clients with little savings, on a low income or nothing at all (as in the case of newly arrived asylum seekers) received this free service. To begin this process the legal aid solicitor needed evidence of the client’s income, which was normally documentation from the Home Office stating that ‘the applicant received asylum support’.

 Green Card

The above mentioned procedure was encouraged by an existed system what was known as ‘filling the Green Card’, that not only cost the British taxpayers’ wallet, but also managed to give rise to a new breed of ‘immigration solicitors’ who were able to thrive on hundreds of thousands refugee seekers.

The ‘Green Card’ operation was aimed at helping the asylum seekers, but the government intervened and changed the system later by blocking a lot of loopholes, which existed in the structure and introducing stringent regulations, and a code of practice, that finally managed to throw some of those ‘immigration lawyers’ out of business.

Apart from the normal administrative functions of completing the official forms and declaring particulars of the asylum seeker to the Home Office, the solicitor’s main function was to write a brief, as stated by the client, explaining what caused the asylum seeker flee his/her country.

The writer enjoyed the work as a part time translator (Sinhala to English) for a professional translating agency in London that had an official contract with the Home Office to transmute many languages into English.

In such a backdrop hundreds of ‘miserable’ stories by Sri Lankan asylum seekers had to be translated into English for home office officials to study each case in considering every asylum application. It was during this period that the writer came across wide and varied experiences related by Sri Lankan applicants.

In certain genuine cases there were harrowing occurrences of human rights violations etc., but in the case of economic refugees some of the ‘experiences’ described by applicants were invented cock and bull stories that blended and harmonised with the existed political situations and horrific incidents and scenes at home at the time which gave dynamism to the claim.

Out of the many submissions Sri Lankan applicants had presented to the Home Office to support their asylum applications one particular ‘fabricated’ masterpiece aimed at convincing any immigration official as an incredulous story, during the height of the JVP insurrection in Sri Lanka, remains in the writer’s memory indelibly.

The disclosure made by one of the Sri Lankan asylum seekers could have easily been made into a television play (teledrama). The revelation itself ran into nearly some 40,000 words, which created history as the highest paid Sinhala to English translation ever by the translating agency in London at the time.

The plot had been carefully thought of, meticulously arranged and professionally presented to coincide with the actual killings and burnings that took place in Sri Lanka during the height of JVP activities.

Despite such precise jointing of incidents with that of living examples at the time, the only slip the applicant had made was by stating how a ‘postman had to bring a letter to his jungle hideout, from his girl friend’ while he was hiding for his dear life at the base of the Adam’s peak! The letter apparently had conveyed the news about his father’s new posting to a Sri Lankan government office in London from the Foreign Ministry. Being overjoyed he immediately had glorified god Saman and left the jungle, rushed back to Colombo secretly, and later travelled to London with the family as a young member of a foreign office staff to London! British officials were quite gullible in a sense to say the least at the beginning, as they never had experienced to what extent immigrants can be up to monkey pranks! Its over the years though such experiences only they have been smartened up to learn all kinds of jiggery-pokery the foreigners can get up to especially when it came in immigration brouhahas.

If not, who wouldn’t think how on earth a postman could find a guy hiding in a jungle to deliver a letter and to what address!

The relevant story will be squeezed into the next episode of Life Abroad.

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One Response to “Life Abroad  March 14 2015 – Migrating or seeking asylum for various reasons”

  1. Nimal Says:

    One must ask as to why they prefer to take a risk to settle in the countries of the Colonial types, mainly Christian. I think the prosperity of these countries are mainly due one’s true respect for freedom, democracy and honesty where everyone is given an opportunity to make a living.For an example this will never happen in SL.
    Any country that is putting too much attention to a religion is doomed, especially when the politicians get involved and use the religion to fool the people instead of getting on with running the country.
    Third world is blighted by these defects that is making the countries poor and people hopeless and make them run to the western countries.
    Only way to make the people stay is to imitate and practice the methods of the Western countries or give our countries for them to administer as our leaders are not capable as our leaders are too selfish, greedy and utterly corrupt and even backward.
    Today I was watching the TV channel Alga zeera the program while having dinner with two young local lads where one of them was a convert to Islam.It was so sad that the program was about the 3 million refugees of Syria and the groups that are fighting one another.
    The groups that were fighting one another, holding guns and firing them at their own citizens never failed to praise God and mentioned his name every second and seeking revenge in the name of god.
    They are the hypocrites and ignorant of the worse kind where they are so stupid and ignorant yet most of them would like to sail to the western countries seeking a better life.
    After explaining the perils of the medieval faiths the converted Muslim lad decided give up Islam and for fellowship and comfort join a church where less stupidity and hypocrisy is practised. But I am not the church going type but meet my friends in homes, restaurants and in pubs if time permit.
    I would urge the third world to take up the practices of the developed world to the letter and ignore and question our leaders and make our countries in line with the highly developed Western countries or we will be recolonized again for the very survival of this planet where the third world will be a burden and a nuisance to the first world, perhaps the reasons where they allow ourselves to self destruct that would make their work cut out and easy for the days of their reckoning.

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