British-Sri Lankan diaspora reconciliation in UK Parliament draws crowds

Over 120 people packed into a large Committee Room in the House of Commons on Wednesday night to hear the Voices for Reconciliation group of young British Sri Lankan diaspora members describe their vision for peace – at home and in Sri Lanka.The Voices for Reconciliation group consists of the 8 young people that accompanied two British parliamentarians on a trip to Sri Lanka in January this year. There they met leaders of all mainstream political parties, civil society groups and a range of projects aimed at fostering peaceful development as the country emerges from the civil war.Wednesday's meeting was the second held in Parliament since their return and was hosted by the All Party Group on Conflict Issues. Alert staff on hand were pressed into a variety of tasks which, in the early stages of the evening, involved crowd control duties as the increasingly exasperated police on duty became concerned that over 100 people waiting in a busy committee room corridor was preventing the very honourable inhabitants of the place from carrying out their democratic duties.Inside chairman George Howarth MP welcomed the meeting with some sense of trepidation, it was very clear that the interest in the meeting was due in large part to the strong opinions that are understandably held from a range of perspectives. He wanted this meeting, he said, to focus on reconciliation and asked for people’s co-operation with that.Following a film which documented their experiences in Sri Lanka, including the ways in which each participant had been confronted with realities that didn’t necessarily fit with how they had imagined them, each spoke personally about those feelings and the hope they had for the future.Clearly moved, some of the parliamentarians present spoke of their own hopes for the group's success and paid tribute to their confidence in being open about their experiences. This included a Peer from Northern Ireland who compared the journeys they were on to that which he had witnessed in that conflict, while another, the Shadow Foreign Office Minister for South Asia, said the strongest factor in their favour wasn’t that they were young, it was that they still had enthusiasm for peace despite the polarisation of the diaspora around them.There were, of course, dissenting voices. Ironically after one of the delegates had asked people to pause “even for half a second” to consider “whether what you’re about to say will contribute to peace or prolonging division” the very first point was a critique of the Sri Lankan Government. This was followed by an equally robust counter view and the intervention of the Sri Lankan Deputy High Commissioner, also in attendance.But the overwhelming nature of the comments and questions from the audience in attendance were both supportive and hopeful of what the group might achieve for the future. And in that there was a message.A very successful event indeed