A delegation of young British Sri Lankan professionals from the United Kingdom visited Sri Lanka from 4th-10th March 2012. The delegation met with youth groups, conflict-affected communities and organisations working to support these communities from across the country. Meetings were also held with the Minister for External Affairs, Hon. GL Peiris, the Minister for Foreign Employment Promotion and Welfare, Hon. Dilan Perera, and Prof. Rajiva Wijesinha MP, President’s Advisor on Reconciliation, as well as with representatives from the UNP, TNA and JVP.
The young professionals’ delegation was sponsored by the Royal Commonwealth Society, an international educational charity based in London, as part of the Society’s Commonwealth Diaspora Dialogues programme. Their programme in Sri Lanka was facilitated by the One Text Initiative and International Alert Sri Lanka. Two UK Parliamentarians from the Westminster and Scottish parliament also accompanied the delegation on this exposure visit themed ‘Youth, Reconciliation and Development’. The focus of this programme is on the role of young diaspora, of multiple ethnicities and professional backgrounds in Sri Lanka’s recovery, reconciliation and development process.
The delegation comprised seven young, second generation British-Sri Lankans of Muslim, Tamil and Sinhalese heritage, aged 21 to 32 years, selected by the Royal Commonwealth Society. The accompanying Parliamentarians were Conservative MP James Wharton (constituency Stockton South) and Labour MSP Richard Baker (constituency North East Scotland). The young delegates included a university student, health, finance and arts and culture professionals, all of whom were selected on the basis of their interest in contributing to Sri Lanka’s post-war recovery.
The Royal Commonwealth Society, One Text Initiative and International Alert’s objectives for this delegation are to:
- Contribute to current understanding of British-Sri Lankan communities in the UK of the rapidly changing circumstances in Sri Lanka following the end of the war;
- Contribute to the level of understanding and public debate taking place among Parliamentarians in Sri Lanka and the UK on the subject; and to
- Forge links between the young British-Sri Lankans and political and civil society groups engaged in development and reconciliation in Sri Lanka, and also between Parliamentarians from both countries.
The delegation travelled to Puttalam to meet with local Muslim IDPs and their host community, accompanied by Hon. Hunais Farook MP (All Ceylon Muslim Congress) and Hon. Niroshan Perera MP (UNP). In Vavuniya, they met with District Secretary Mrs P.S.M Charles to learn about the recovery and resettlement programme in the region, and then travelled to Killinochchi to meet with local communities who have recently resettled. They received a briefing on the demining process and spoke to a cross community group of young people from Vavuniya. The delegation also visited a rehabilitation centre and met with ex-combatants resettled into the community in Vavuniya. They had the opportunity to interact with former combatants and share their stories. In Trincomalee, they attended a meeting chaired by the Ceylon Chamber of Commerce, visited a cross-community health development project and called upon the Governor of the Eastern Province.
The delegation members were able to observe the conditions of different conflict-affected communities, understand the multiple post-war issues and learn of the developments which have taken place. These experiences will contribute to shaping their future contribution to Sri Lanka’s reconciliation and development.