Tamil Economic Refugees: How Illegal Immigration is Ingrained in Tamil Culture
Posted on August 17th, 2010

– Kumar Moses

Thirai kadal odiyum thiraviam thedu “”…” Tamil proverb. It means, “cross the seas and grab the fortunes”.

Absolutely no disrespect for any community but this is the main driving force of Tamil economic refugees to greener pastures. Before pointing the finger at Sri Lanka and alleged human rights violations and other “push” factors, this must be understood clearly. It is this driving force that is responsible for human trafficking and complete lack of regard for territorial boundaries of nations; especially developed nations around the world. Today the human trafficking industry is a multi-million-dollar industry stretching from Australia to Canada across the Indian and Atlantic Oceans on one side and across the Pacific on the other. The biggest push factor is this urge to make a fortune across the seas which is deeply ingrained in the Tamil culture.

Historical Perspective

Tamil illegal immigration didn’t start recently. It was there for a very long time; centuries to be precise. However, only recently it was coupled with the human trafficking industry. Tamils originate from Tamil Nadu (meaning Tamils’ native land) of India. There are over 65 million Tamils in Tamil Nadu today, which is about 85% of the world Tamil population. Tamil Nadu has a very long rich Tamil culture dating back to the pre-Christian era. All Tamil communities around the world have their roots in Tamil Nadu. And all Tamil cultural productions even today originate in Tamil Nadu.

During Portuguese and Dutch occupation of Sri Lanka, hundreds of thousands of Tamil agricultural labourers were brought by the occupying forces to Sri Lanka from Tamil Nadu. As Sri Lanka (then Ceylon) couldn’t enforce its borders, this happened without any hindrance. They engaged in tobacco cultivation which was very lucrative. Motivated by their prosperity, a very large number of Tamils illegally migrated to Ceylon. Then the British colonialists occupied Ceylon and they started the tea industry. Hundreds of thousands of Tamil Nadu labourers were allowed into the island nation by the British. Even after the British left, still hundreds of thousands of Tamils cross the narrow sea stretch and illegally migrate to Sri Lanka. It is a fact that Sri Lanka has more Tamil illegal immigrants than Canada and Australia combined! However, they don’t rely on human traffickers.

During the British rule of India, Ceylon (modern day Sri Lanka) and Malaya (modern day Malaysia and Singapore), a large number of Tamils set sail to Malaya because of the very large number of labour and clerical opportunities it offered. As Malaya was not an independent country, it could not enforce its borders. Tales of prosperity reached the shores of Tamil Nadu and Sri Lanka, which instigated a continued flow of Tamils to Malaya until Malaysia as an independent country, closed its borders.  

Escalation of Violence and War

After Tamil Nadu failed to gain independence from India under the name Dravidistan, the Tamil National struggle moved to neighbouring Sri Lanka. It led to open war in 1983 and lasted for 26 long years. During the war, a large number of Tamils moved back to Tamil Nadu, India but found that living conditions were appalling in Tamil Nadu. This made Tamil Nadu a poor destination choice and they started to look at the rich West. Many Western nations allowed them asylum triggering a continued flow of refugees.

Hundreds of Tamil Tiger Terrorists (LTTE) also reached Western nations as refugees. Together they started a US$300 million a year finance network for the LTTE until all LTTE front organisations were banned in over 30 nations of the developed world. The war ended in 2009 and there is absolutely no violence against anyone in Sri Lanka today.

However, the West remains the top most destination for both legal and illegal Tamil migrants. Those who cannot make it legally use illegal means to get there.

Post War Situation    

Despite the ending of the war, Tamil migration has not stopped. Illegal Tamil migration is driven by the urge to grab fortunes said to lie across the seas as stated clearly by the Tamil proverb. Sri Lanka is a third world country and it will remain so for a long time into the future. Even if Sri Lanka develops, it may not match the prosperity of Canada. However, Canada, Australia, Western Europe and the USA provide unparalleled riches and a quality of life for immigrants and they don’t hesitate to get there one way or the other. Average income in the West is at least 6-8 times than Sri Lanka. Quality of life is remarkably better in the West. Hence illegal Tamil immigration will continue. There are other key push factors involved as well. The Tamil society is severely affected by caste and social status issues. A “ƒ”¹…”lower caste’ family making a fortune in Canada does not go down well with a “ƒ”¹…”higher caste’ family in Colombo. That triggers the Colombo family to get to Canada by whatever means available.

Dowry is another very strong issue in the Tamil community. Without offering a big dowry, Tamil women could not get married. Since almost a quarter of the Sri Lankan Tamil community now residing abroad, marriages across national boundaries are common. However, a Tamil family in Colombo cannot match the riches of a Tamil family in Toronto. This pushes them to go abroad by hook or by crook just to earn the dowry to get their daughters or sisters married. It is very unlikely that this situation will change in the future.

Alleged human rights abuses in Sri Lanka offer them a good excuse to illegally migrate and seek refuge abroad. However, these allegations are at most exaggerated and often inaccurate. Still that is the only way available to Tamil illegal immigrants.  

“Cross the seas and grab the fortunes” will be the advice every Tamil youth will get from their elders as it is ingrained in the Tamil culture. Nothing can change this. 

Thirai kadal odiyum thiraviam thedu “”…” Tamil proverb. It means, “cross the seas and grab the fortunes”.

Absolutely no disrespect for any community but this is the main driving force of Tamil economic refugees to greener pastures. Before pointing the finger at Sri Lanka and alleged human rights violations and other “push” factors, this must be understood clearly. It is this driving force that is responsible for human trafficking and complete lack of regard for territorial boundaries of nations; especially developed nations around the world. Today the human trafficking industry is a multi-million-dollar industry stretching from Australia to Canada across the Indian and Atlantic Oceans on one side and across the Pacific on the other. The biggest push factor is this urge to make a fortune across the seas which is deeply ingrained in the Tamil culture.

Historical Perspective

Tamil illegal immigration didn’t start recently. It was there for a very long time; centuries to be precise. However, only recently it was coupled with the human trafficking industry. Tamils originate from Tamil Nadu (meaning Tamils’ native land) of India. There are over 65 million Tamils in Tamil Nadu today, which is about 85% of the world Tamil population. Tamil Nadu has a very long rich Tamil culture dating back to the pre-Christian era. All Tamil communities around the world have their roots in Tamil Nadu. And all Tamil cultural productions even today originate in Tamil Nadu.

During Portuguese and Dutch occupation of Sri Lanka, hundreds of thousands of Tamil agricultural labourers were brought by the occupying forces to Sri Lanka from Tamil Nadu. As Sri Lanka (then Ceylon) couldn’t enforce its borders, this happened without any hindrance. They engaged in tobacco cultivation which was very lucrative. Motivated by their prosperity, a very large number of Tamils illegally migrated to Ceylon. Then the British colonialists occupied Ceylon and they started the tea industry. Hundreds of thousands of Tamil Nadu labourers were allowed into the island nation by the British. Even after the British left, still hundreds of thousands of Tamils cross the narrow sea stretch and illegally migrate to Sri Lanka. It is a fact that Sri Lanka has more Tamil illegal immigrants than Canada and Australia combined! However, they don’t rely on human traffickers.

During the British rule of India, Ceylon (modern day Sri Lanka) and Malaya (modern day Malaysia and Singapore), a large number of Tamils set sail to Malaya because of the very large number of labour and clerical opportunities it offered. As Malaya was not an independent country, it could not enforce its borders. Tales of prosperity reached the shores of Tamil Nadu and Sri Lanka, which instigated a continued flow of Tamils to Malaya until Malaysia as an independent country, closed its borders.  

Escalation of Violence and War

After Tamil Nadu failed to gain independence from India under the name Dravidistan, the Tamil National struggle moved to neighbouring Sri Lanka. It led to open war in 1983 and lasted for 26 long years. During the war, a large number of Tamils moved back to Tamil Nadu, India but found that living conditions were appalling in Tamil Nadu. This made Tamil Nadu a poor destination choice and they started to look at the rich West. Many Western nations allowed them asylum triggering a continued flow of refugees.

Hundreds of Tamil Tiger Terrorists (LTTE) also reached Western nations as refugees. Together they started a US$300 million a year finance network for the LTTE until all LTTE front organisations were banned in over 30 nations of the developed world. The war ended in 2009 and there is absolutely no violence against anyone in Sri Lanka today.

However, the West remains the top most destination for both legal and illegal Tamil migrants. Those who cannot make it legally use illegal means to get there.

Post War Situation    

Despite the ending of the war, Tamil migration has not stopped. Illegal Tamil migration is driven by the urge to grab fortunes said to lie across the seas as stated clearly by the Tamil proverb. Sri Lanka is a third world country and it will remain so for a long time into the future. Even if Sri Lanka develops, it may not match the prosperity of Canada. However, Canada, Australia, Western Europe and the USA provide unparalleled riches and a quality of life for immigrants and they don’t hesitate to get there one way or the other. Average income in the West is at least 6-8 times than Sri Lanka. Quality of life is remarkably better in the West. Hence illegal Tamil immigration will continue. There are other key push factors involved as well. The Tamil society is severely affected by caste and social status issues. A “ƒ”¹…”lower caste’ family making a fortune in Canada does not go down well with a “ƒ”¹…”higher caste’ family in Colombo. That triggers the Colombo family to get to Canada by whatever means available.

Dowry is another very strong issue in the Tamil community. Without offering a big dowry, Tamil women could not get married. Since almost a quarter of the Sri Lankan Tamil community now residing abroad, marriages across national boundaries are common. However, a Tamil family in Colombo cannot match the riches of a Tamil family in Toronto. This pushes them to go abroad by hook or by crook just to earn the dowry to get their daughters or sisters married. It is very unlikely that this situation will change in the future.

Alleged human rights abuses in Sri Lanka offer them a good excuse to illegally migrate and seek refuge abroad. However, these allegations are at most exaggerated and often inaccurate. Still that is the only way available to Tamil illegal immigrants.  

“Cross the seas and grab the fortunes” will be the advice every Tamil youth will get from their elders as it is ingrained in the Tamil culture. Nothing can change this.

2 Responses to “Tamil Economic Refugees: How Illegal Immigration is Ingrained in Tamil Culture”

  1. Raj Says:

    This is the absolute truth. It is not just common to Tamils but also to others. Prosperity attracts humans of all races. Even animals are attracted to greener pastures.

  2. Fran Diaz Says:

    We think that Sri Lanka presents Greener Pastures for a lot of dispossessed folk in SE Asia, not only for Tamils. That is why we have to have a strong Navy & Army, on a forever basis, to prevent illegal migration into Lanka.

    Registration of persons as well as issuing Sri Lanka Passports ought to be handed over to the Defense Ministry. As matters stand, it is all too easy to gain Sri Lanka citizenship. We are sitting on a time bomb re illegal migrants, particularly from Tamil Nadu. TN will gladly offload as many Tamil illegal migrants on any country. Then they can form their Chola Empire again Foolish countries such as Lanka will allow illegal migrants in.

    It is shameful that Lanka GoSLs have allowed Tamils to come in such large numbers to Lanka. The Cold War and various religious group participants have attempted to take away the sovereignty of Lanka. It is time to restore Lanka by using our common sense and the Law of the Land.

    ALL illegal migrants ought to be DEPORTED.

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