|Leo Seemanpillai, "the Tamil asylum seeker who died recently after setting himself alight will be buried in Australia later this week without any of his family being allowed to attend his funeral." (Alexandra Kirk, ABC News, June 14, 2014)|
I did not always know where Sri Lanka was or of its divided history; I first learned of its civil war when I was editing an international collection of lesbian short fiction in 1996 and began exchanging e-mails with Yasmin Tambiah, a Sri Lankan writer who had returned home after her college education in America. We could only reach each other when electricity was available, when bombs were not falling, when Yasmin was not attending the funeral of friends lost in the conflict. She wrote then, "September 1984: Three months since I returned to Sri Lanka with an American college degree. The civil war has spilled beyond the Northern Province. Metal gates to my parents' house still bear the dents of rock-throwing mobs. There are ax marks on the wooden doors. New plaster hides a ceiling charred by a burning tire. Embattled elsewhere I relive the horror of July 1983 through my siblings' eyes. It is difficult to articulate the deep loss within, the negation of familiar fictions, the awareness that exile in one's own country is even less bearable that at a distance. It is a loss compounded by my family's fear."
Yasmin and I now live in the same different country from where we started and once again are working together to articulate the world of the displaced. What first saddens and then encourages the deepest of anger in me at the politics of so- called border protection and its new twist here of using the poorest of near nation islands to build detention camps, and this is a policy supported by Labor as well as the right wing Liberal Abbott government, is the cascading heartlessness that punishes the already punished. Our newspaper that we read here, The Age, portrays the exiles that took this young man's life:
"Persecuted in Sri Lanka, exiled to India and tortured in Indonesia, the final indignity for asylum seeker Leo Seempillai--who self-immolated--is that his family has been denied visas to attend his funeral in Australia." (Konrad Marshall, June 18, 2014)