Patriots, Traitors, Opportunists Or Helpless?
Thousands of Sri Lankans reportedly try to flee the island, illegally. In recent weeks we have had quite a spectacle of ‘boat people’ who have tried and failed, tried and got most of the way and some who have reached Australia or other destinations.
What we do not know of course is how many perished at sea. Still others leave for not so exotic places like the Middle East and to a lesser extent to countries in the region.
Then of course there are the ‘wannabe students’ who merely use the expediency of a student visa to enter the Olympic nation Britain.
Once they land, there is hardly a day that they attend these schools and instead employment is sought in a variety of places fuelling the black economy of the Olympian land.
It also causes the mandarins and boffins at the Home Office to be on their toes and to keep devising more ways in which to keep ‘illegals’ out of the country.
Some of those who remain on the island – indeed a large majority – do so quite possibly because they have no other viable option.
Hopping on a boat that is Australia or Canada bound or even hopping on an aeroplane to the UK via Nairobi and Johannesburg costs more money than the average Sri Lankan can hope to collect ever: some accounts have it at over Rs. 2 Million (and that they assure me is cheap) and that is simply beyond the reach of the average Lankan.
Remember per capita GDP is USD 2830 making Sri Lanka’s ranking anything between 107 and 117 in world GDP ratings depending on whose report one looks at.
The World Bank is most sympathetic ranking us at 107.
Yet, not quite enough for an average worker to fork out the illegal Rs. 2 Million plus needed to get on that boat or plane.
This majority who have no option can but carry on with life, complain within the safety of their homes and friends about how difficult conditions are and secretly resolve to vote whoever is in power out in the first opportunity.
The cycle starts all over again when the next lot of elections come round.
Many voters get carried away by the ‘heat of the moment’ and often vote the same lot in all over again – suckers some would call these voters.
Or that the politicians who canvas their vote are far better at persuasion than ever before. Indeed with the number of elections Sri Lanka has had, these men – and women – are absolute “pro’s” at the art of persuading the voter their way.
Most of this majority will fear to be outspoken about their grouse: be it the colossal sums that the governments of the day spend on maintaining the politicians and their associates or the fact that many politicians simply do not deliver what they promised.
President Jayawardena tweaked the constitution to suit his party and himself and President Rajapaksa has strengthened the powers of the Executive. Both used the mandate that the people gave them.
A smaller minority of people will choose to live in Sri Lanka by choice.
They will have the means and the opportunity to leave these shores but consciously make a decision to stay.
They are neither blind nor immune from the same fears and concerns of the majority in the country but perhaps make their decision based on economics and little else.
Many indeed stay for their own reasons. They may be too old to start all over in another land, their family ties to the country would preclude them from leaving. In essence they too have no choice.
However, there are some who choose to remain in Sri Lanka and whilst here some will gamble with their quality of life by being outspoken on matters of conscience and flirting with the real possibility that the authorities will not take too kindly of their opinions and interpretation of various matters – usually related to freedom of speech, movement, good governance and equality for all.
Some of these people will labour point after point to the point of being so boring they are unlikely to be invited to your home again.
I heard an interesting argument the other day amongst a mixed bunch of Sri Lankans all of whom are living abroad.
It went a bit like this: the government they said can name the 6,352 persons they list as missing from the former conflict areas.
The Diaspora and their allies in the ‘West’ claim that over 30,000 lost their lives during the final push for supremacy in the area.
Can the Diaspora provide a list of names? After all say the pro-Lanka groups, there is nothing to stop the Diaspora from making their own enquiries as they all live within the cocoon of so-called safety in the West.
Why can’t they do that? That was the most contentious question this group argued about – until the final bell was rung at the Rose & Crown.
The fact is this. That those who seek to use illegal methods of exit from Sri Lanka do so by and large for economic reasons. They find it conducive to blame it on repression and being hounded by the government.
I mean it makes sense does it not? If they were leaving Utopia then the Border Force in Australia may well send them right back but talk of repression and being hounded and about personal freedom and safety being at stake and it is almost like pulling the emergency cord on a train.
Much of this ambiance of suspicion has been entirely the creation of this government.
No it is not let’s blame the government (Again!).
Time but facts as they say are stubborn. The government – and they will have to admit it – have been singularly poorly advised when it comes to being media savvy.
The General who was hailed as the “world’s best Army Commander” was then incarcerated; the “zero civilian casualties” became something of a pain: it took months and reams of columns of newsprint and hours of footage globally for the government to realise the error of their ways and clarify it by saying that “collateral damage” was kept to a minimum – implying to the world that the Sri Lankan forces were no more prone to error than their American, British, French or any other counterparts.
A statement that would have had immediate acceptance from most. Instead by making statements such as these the government scored an own goal.
Not unlike the United National Party and their infamous remarks on “Alimankada and Pamankada”.
The simple and expedient method of assuaging the Western fears that heinous war crimes took place in the final weeks of the war was ignored until very recently when our President announced to the world that investigations would be conducted and that “no one would be protected”.
An important statement like that was hardly given any coverage by the spin doctors employed by His Excellency.
We will not talk of the millions of dollars spent on a firm called Chime to do exactly that.
And it is another own goal: the government in spite of and despite the millions of American dollars expended on firms of repute on ‘reputation management’ has failed to ever capitalize on drawing attention to the horrors that engulfed this country for 30 long years – not fall prey to the ploys of the Diaspora who have succeeded in drawing attention to the final few weeks and thereby letting the world almost forget the carnage and fear psychosis the general public endured for over 30 years.
And perversely it is these own goals from the government that the illegal emigrants from Sri Lanka use as their principal reason in claiming bogus refuge in a variety of countries. Some of these nations of course have cottoned on to these claims but are forced to expend millions of dollars on processing claims in order to establish the authenticity of these claims.
The point of course is this: the majority of Sri Lanka cannot just pack up and leave when the going gets tough.
Instead that is when the tough need to get going. Some will walk the talk whilst quite a few will merely talk the walk!
Utopia is a very long way off for Sri Lanka – as much as it is for the Americans, the Australians and whoever else one cares to name.
Until the government – yes them again – come up with at least a semblance of at least a near-perfect socio-legal-political ambiance on this unfortunately called “serendib” people will continue to try to be opportunistic and migrate using whatever means they can.
Until then Patriots, Opportunists and the Helpless will continue to live as they have, with Traitors too – all harbouring hopes of leaving for any Utopia they can find.