| by Victor Cherubim
( August 7, 2013, London, Sri Lanka Guardian) The hordes of boat people wanting a life at sea and seek lands-end in Australia, is driving governments on both sides of the divide, to act impetuously like police chasing robbers. Sri Lanka and Australia rightly blame each other for this debacle. However, the game seems over for the aspirations of good life on arrival in Australia for the economic migrants. Many having sold wherewithal and having braved the mighty ocean, the perilous boat journey, are now to opt to return home empty handed, or languish for years in squalid hostels or other temporary accommodation abroad. If they are not quickly returned to Colombo, they will be taken to Papua New Guinea where their claims will be assessed. Around 1300 have been sent home since August 2012, of which nearly 1100 of them involuntarily.
The declaration by Australia’s Prime Minister Kevin Rudd, that Australia will “ never again resettle boat people“ has lifted Labour’s standing in September 7th polls, as voters appear to be impressed with this hard line approach and his offshore resettlement plan in Manus Island and Nauru. This approach is clever because it cannot be fully tested during the election campaign, while simultaneously; the UN is troubled by this policy to block refugees.
For Sri Lanka it is a challenge and an expense. Sri Lankan navy nabbed over 115 Australia bound off the eastern seas of Batticaloa recently. Earlier last month a boat carrying 225 boat people was intercepted off Java, Indonesia.
So why are so many wanting to leave Sri Lanka?
Enchantment knows no bounds. Unemployment possibly is becoming unbearable and life on the ocean wave is inviting and bracing. But, is that all?
Sri Lanka will no doubt, resettle the bunch of disgruntled, who toyed with working anywhere, except at home. Excuses abound with the boat people wanting to flee the conditions of living in Sri Lanka. Some maintain the killing of protest marcher,Roshen Chanaka, by police and the military at the Katunayake EPZ, the Chilaw protest marcher Antony against oil price hike, the Welikade Prison tragedy and the attack in Weliweriya during the clashes recently between some elements of the forces and the public, who protested against water pollution, are some causes for dissatisfaction. But there is no denying that the reasons for the general disenchantment lie deeper.
Perhaps, the pace of change is leading to disaffection with the government. Those who say:
“water, water everywhere, but not clean enough to drink”, uncontrolled agro-chemical pesticide contamination in North Central Province, corruption and cost of living eating into the body politic, with little to show, could also contribute to this unease.
Rhetoric is replacing reconciliation, opportunity is fast escaping. Many in these most difficult of circumstances, want to vote with their feet and flee abroad. “Do they know it is not Christmas time” or that “Living in the future,” is not life any more.
Progress, yet development cannot inoculate the country against the spread of “migrantitis”.
As ideas spread like wild fire, no amount of compulsion, coercion or countering by force, either Military or police can contain the thirst for freedom of thought and expression. It does however; mean law and order should prevail. But, the more there is alien values spreading into our villages, the more there will be unease and unrest.
According to Dr.A.T. Ariyaratna, of Sarvodaya Shramadana Movement: “Providing leadership that heals the wounds of war and transforms the structures of governance into one that meets the aspirations of both the ethnic majority and minorities, is the continuing challenge for our beloved country”.
But someone commented:” after 60 years of work by Sarvodaya working towards laudable objectives of peace, reconciliation and friendship –the country is more divided, splintered and seething in sectarian hatred than ever before”.
Spirituality and compassion cannot be tarnished by uplifting the aspirations and the
living standards of the masses.
How did we do this in the past?
We built and preserved water, in tanks and reservoirs. We farmed without pesticides. We had an abundance of rich soil. We lived well and eat well. Our villages were more or less self sufficient. Our communities were not primitive, but creative. Our close bond of family life was cherished.
Who now will create our future?
We will, we must and we can. Human bonds will survive hardship and chaos as we relive the past. Modern technologies have spread many ideas, some good, and some nondescript. One such idea is that we can get rich quick and fast, by the throw of a dice, or by the “roll “of the roulette, by gambling in casinos.
That our Defence and Urban Development Secretary, has deemed it necessary to protect the environment around Lake House and save it for future generations, rather than allow a Casino to be built to degenerate that precinct, is laudable. Human nature has not changed from the past, but our ideas of living have.