Sri Lanka

Part of Orders of the Day – in the House of Commons at 4:15 pm on 2nd May 2007.

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Photo of Sadiq Khan Sadiq Khan Labour, Tooting 4:15 pm, 2nd May 2007

I have never visited Sri Lanka. My knowledge of the problems in Sri Lanka stems from my experience as the MP for Tooting for the past two years and as a councillor for Tooting ward between 1994 and 2006. There is a large Tamil diaspora in Tooting. In my experience, the Tamil community has helped to regenerate Tooting town centre and contributed to Tooting's vibrancy. It has also brought cultural enrichment to our community in Tooting and Wandsworth.

Members of the community first came to the area as asylum seekers. Many of them became refugees and went on to become nationals. Most of them then became British citizens. They are proud to be Tooting Tamils. Tooting has a vibrant and well-used temple: the Sivayogam temple on Upper Tooting road. The White Pigeon charity on Upper Tooting road does a great deal of charitable work in Sri Lanka. The Tamil rehabilitation organisation is on Garratt lane. The South London Tamil welfare group, Wandsworth Tamil welfare association and many other groups do a tremendous amount of work not only in the community in Tooting, but in Sri Lanka. In my contribution I will articulate the concerns that those groups have raised with me. My experience of Sri Lanka comes through the eyes of my constituents, many of whom come to my surgeries to seek help and still have family members and loved ones in Sri Lanka.

As hon. Members have said, over the past four months fighting has continued to rage between the Sri Lankan armed forces and the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam—the LTTE. The 2002 ceasefire agreement that was signed by the Government of Sri Lanka and the LTTE now seems like years ago. It is worth remembering that up to 2002, the civil war in Sri Lanka had claimed the lives of at least 64,000 people, most of whom were civilians. Men, women and children were indiscriminately killed or seriously injured.

The Sri Lanka monitoring mission made some progress. As Simon Hughes commented, Norway deserves tributes for the role that it has played, but the US Government, the EU, Japan, the Indian Government and ourselves have also played a big role.

Many of us have used the BBC as our source of reference. It estimates that 4,000 more people, mainly Tamil civilians, have been killed in Sri Lanka since late 2005, when violence began to escalate once again, bringing the total number of people killed since the outbreak of civil war to 68,000. I am grateful to my hon. Friends the Members for Ealing, North (Stephen Pound) and for Islington, North (Jeremy Corbyn) for reminding us of the history of Sri Lanka and where any blame for the civil war should be apportioned.

Hon. Members will be aware that although the LTTE was a party to the 2002 ceasefire agreement, it was—and still is—proscribed under the Terrorism Act 2000 in the UK. The US and India have also proscribed the LTTE and declared it to be a terrorist organisation. In mid-May 2006, the European Parliament passed a resolution in support of declaring the LTTE a terrorist organisation. On 29 May, it was confirmed that EU Foreign Ministers had decided to list the LTTE as a terrorist organisation. On 31 May, the EU announced in a statement that sanctions against the LTTE were in force.

I accept that in the UK it is open to the LTTE to challenge proscription using the route set out in the Terrorism Act, and I understand that when the Home Secretary recently met Tamil groups he made it quite clear that any challenge would have to be made via that route. I take on board the serious points made by my hon. Friend the Minister, and it is right that they should be addressed. However, may I tell the Government and colleagues that there is a perception among the Tamil diaspora of double standards? The House of Commons Library note states, in the context of violence:

"The main protagonists are the Sri Lankan Government and the LTTE."

There is a belief that only the LTTE has been penalised. The Tamil diaspora cannot be confident that the EU is an impartial broker, following its declaration that the LTTE is a terrorist organisation, and there are fears that that will seriously weaken the Sri Lanka monitoring mission.

Colleagues will know from other debates in the Chamber going back many years the arguments about one man's terrorist being another man's freedom fighter. Concerns have been raised by my constituents about a dirty tricks campaign that is being waged against the Tamil diaspora in the UK. We have all seen—and it has already been mentioned—the press coverage on 21 April 2007, in which a representative of the Sri Lankan embassy in London claimed that the LTTE was behind a scam involving petrol station employees in the UK, in which credit cards were cloned, PIN numbers recorded and money withdrawn and allegedly used by the LTTE. On the other hand, Humberside police say clearly and unequivocally:

"Our evidence does not suggest that there is a definite link with Sri Lankan gangs."

There is a perception in the communities of the Tamil diaspora that allegations and aspersions can be made without their having any recourse to try to clear their name. We should understand their frustration, and colleagues have articulated the snowballing of perceived unfairness, whether real or not, leading to other forms of discomfort and actions that we all condemn.