The Uthayakumar family must stay! Stop deporting Tamils to Sri Lanka!

On 5 September immigration authorities snatched a Tamil Sri Lankan family from South Benwell, Newcastle. The immigration police pounded at the door of the Uthayakumar family home at 7am and demanded access. The family were informed that they faced deportation and were made to pack their belongings under the supervision of immigration officials from North Shields Immigration Reporting Centre. The family is suspected by the Sri Lankan government of having connections to the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) and would be in extreme danger if deported.

The Uthayakumar family are members of Tyneside Community Action for Refugees (TCAR) and were able to make a phone call to friends, who were also TCAR members, before opening the door. Their friends mobilised people immediately to protest against the dawn raid. The local police prevented protesters from getting close to the house, threatening arrests for breach of the peace.

Political action against immigration snatch squads is costing the Home Office time and resources. For the last few months a group named SnatchWatch has been monitoring early morning activity at North Shields and attempting to follow vans if they go out on dawn raids. The Immigration Service is now using police back-up and appears to be using decoy vans to avoid being followed.

In January this year TCAR started the Pledge of Resistance (reported in FRFI 195), which calls on local people to stand in solidarity with asylum seekers by getting out on the streets and protesting if a dawn raid happens in their area. The Labour government tries to use dawn raids to snatch families silently, away from public scrutiny. But TCAR members say ‘You will not snatch us silently!’ Every time a TCAR family is snatched TCAR holds a noisy demonstration outside the Government Offices North East. As a direct result of this political action, many TCAR members have had their cases reported in the press and the vast majority have avoided deportation.

A fresh appeal has now been submitted in the Uthayakumar family’s case. The campaign for them to stay is supported by the school attended by 15-year-old Kawsika Uthayakumar and their story has had local and international news coverage. The family were released from detention on 20 September and headed straight back to Newcastle to join the TCAR march against immigration prisons on 22 September.

Sri Lanka is a former British colony and, although a relatively small island, holds great strategic importance for control of the wider region. Since the early 1970s the LTTE has led the fight for an independent Tamil state in the north and eastern part of the island. This area contains one of the most prized deep water ports in the region at Trincomalee and imperialist powers like Britain and the US do not see an independent Tamil state as in their interests. They have therefore assisted the Sri Lankan government in attacking the Tamil national struggle. In March 2001 the British government named the LTTE as one of the international organisations that would be banned from operating in Britain under the Terrorism Act 2000. This meant that almost all support for Tamil independence is criminalised.
Annie Richardson

FRFI 199 October / November 2007