Though ‘hada gaththu pela dalaa kohe yannada’ is a cliche we all know home is where the heart is and we mean it when we say we cannot leave our homes. Yet as in Milton Mallawarachchi’s song people leave parents, children, wives and husbands behind just to earn enough, just to build a home for the loved ones and for their ‘mathu dhiyuna,’ a better life. Some go through legal avenues but some do not. I’ve seen them, met them and sometimes even had conversations with them.
It is true that the horror stories are not exaggerated of illegal migrants who look for not only ‘mille soya’ in the western world, but also looking for Dinar, Dirham, or Riyal in places like Middle East, where there is no forgiveness for illegality. Sometimes, journey of hope ends the life. It is also true that there are families living in the west who couldn’t attend the funerals of their parents because if they leave, they cannot come back to where they earn living. There are men saying how the boat was shot by the border patrol when they just saw the land of Italy and also there are women who gamble lives to repeatedly enter Dubai with the help of ‘gurami pannannan,’ the human traffickers, under false identities in fake passports.
Now I too don’t live in the place where I used to call home. After leaving Sri Lanka as a young adult I’ve met all different people while living in Australia and USA and I’ve learned a lot from them. I’ve matured with life experiences. Sometimes I think of old memories. I remember how we, cousins roamed around looking for trees full of fruits to throw stones at, fish to catch and release. We even laughed out loud at the local cemeteries. On one of those adventures we found out fake passports altered and laid for the ink to be dry out on a large mat in one backyard. Someone was helping people to get out but as children we didn’t see what it was. Then later when we first migrated to Australia as skilled migrants we often had to face difficulties because we faced prejudice or were misunderstood for illegal Sri Lankan immigrants. But as we were raised to be free spirited and open minded, my husband and I have become people who can understand the harsh lives of illegal immigrants instead of looking at them wrongfully. Because, no matter how sophisticated social lives we try to live, as taught in Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, it is not that difficult for us to know the difference between wants and needs and what is more important than the other. So I can tell you about a lot of emigrations such as from Asia to Australia, From Latin America to USA and Canada, bankrupt European countries to other European countries, etc. You will understand.
While Sinhalese, Tamils, Burghers and Muslims from Sri Lanka who truly feared for lives, fled to places where they can feel secure, there were people who tried to seek light using the the darkness of 83 black July, making it an opportunity to go to foreign countries for nothing but economic reasons but hiding themselves under the label of political asylum seekers wishing the war would never end and it will be there salvation. But we all know that while a strange group of people feed the war, terrorists and the separation there are innocent ordinary people who just miss home wanting to come home. They are not inhuman. In America, the illegal immigrant labor force slaving themselves at low wages has both negative and positive impacts on the economy. I remember some time ago, Australia taking illegal immigrants as a burden. Perhaps some laws have changed but the living conditions of illegal immigrant have always been dreadful everywhere in the world.
If there is time, money and will my family could go to Sri Lanka every summer holidays or anytime but the nostalgia that we feel for our home is something bigger than as described in Amaradeva’s ‘re duru rata me’ song. Then imagine how bad that feeling is for an illegal immigrant or a political asylum seeker who has no assurance that he can ever come home. Can you empathize with them? When US congress is threatening to deport illegal immigrants, President Barack Obama vows he will use his executive powers to reform the immigration laws. And if the first black American president used his executive powers to extend the time of an innocent man’s term instead of lengthening his presidential term, I will bow in front of that man for eternity.
If you wonder why I suddenly talk about illegal immigrants, let me clear that with you. Suddenly, just before the presidential election in Sri Lanka the process of dual citizenship suspended for a long time is opened. Without scrutinizing the subtle political agenda behind it I cannot criticize the actions. But I know the new process is only making way to people who are already able to travel in between countries without problems. I doubt if people who fled for true political reasons or those who left hoping to earn a buck will not benefit from this or not. Some say “Now all Tamils will line up claiming their properties.” I like to tell them this: Yes. Those who left everything for the sake of being alive should come back home. They should come back to kiss the ground that once kissed their feet as children while roaming around the homestead just like I did. Everywhere in this world, every poor man, woman who had to leave home to earn a buck should be able to come home one day. If we work towards such freedom for them, we will be remembered in history as humans. And they will all be home, where the heart is.