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Arumaithurai Iyadurai

I can still remember my rather vivid descriptions of our experiences in Sri Lanka. All those sleepless nights, the tranquility of night being broken by the sound of helicopters and the gun fire in the distance. Many nights would go by without leaving home, huddled around a single hurricane lamp, waiting to flee to the safety of the bunkers.

It was July of 1983. Though the exact dates don’t remain clear in my mind, the experiences remain painfully fresh. I was 23 years old at the

time and I was living with my elder brother, sister-in-law and two nieces aged three and five on Fernando road in Colombo. Word around town was that mobs of Sinhala thugs were arriving by train and stopping at every lane. With voters’ lists in their hands, they stopped at every Tamil house, cleared the house of all useful possessions, attacked the people and burned the house down. Some were beat up with hatchets, some were stabbed with knives and some were killed - but all were on the streets, stripped of their homes and possessions. Amidst the chaos and the uncertainty of when our lane would be under attack, we tried to get as much information as possible. What I remember most vividly is the fact that Army officials were standing by and watching. No one was arrested or condemned for the acts of violence. Some of my friends who lived in the other lanes that got attacked ran to my house dripping of blood and struggling to speak. They said that they were moving from lane to lane and it’d be a matter of time before Fernando road was hit. Some of the elderly people on our lane went and talked to the owners of a small store located at the foot of our lane. Owned by a Sinhala man and a Tamil woman, they were very friendly to us - their customers and neighbours. They told us that they would take care of it when the thugs arrived. We weren’t sure if they gave the thugs money or if they threatened them, but all we knew was that somehow, our lane was skipped and the killings continued.

I was constantly wondering when they would show up at our front gate, afraid thinking about how I was going to die. Having narrowly escaped and not knowing when or if they would come back, my brother started making phone calls. The director of the company he worked for was a Sinhala man whose brother was an Army Commander at the time. Having had good relationships with the director, he contacted his brother to see if he could help us out. Approximately a day later, an army truck arrived outside our house. With the people in our lanes watching on, thinking that we were being arrested, we were escorted into the truck. We were then taken to a refugee camp.

There were approximately 28,000 people at the refugee camp which consisted of a school, a temple and a hall. With only about 10 – 12 bathrooms, limited supply of food and an overcrowded area, we struggled to get by. There were huge lines for food and even bigger lines for people waiting to go to the bathroom. It was hard, especially with two very young children. About ten days later, one of my friends, and three children went back to see what was left of their home. They never returned. We were told that they were killed on the spot.

The days went by slowly and 17 days later, we all boarded a bus and were told that we were leaving Colombo. I remember leaving the camp late into the evening. Approximately 2,400 people boarded a cargo ship. Our hurdle at that time was to safely board the ship on a ladder made out of rope without falling. It took almost the entire night to get everyone onto the ship and we didn’t leave until well into the next morning. Though we had narrowly escaped on various occasions, we had suffered greatly. But, it was only while I was on that ship among the hundreds of people and with the sun burning down on us, that I wished I was already killed during the attack on our lanes.

Though I lost track of time, I think it should’ve taken us about a day and half or so to get to K.K.S. Harbour. We stayed with my parents and siblings at home. I was then admitted to the hospital with yellow fever. I spent approximately two weeks there and didn’t think that I would make it out alive as many people at that time died from yellow fever.

Living in Jaffna was very different. It didn’t take too long to get used to sounds of guns and bombs. My elder brother and his family stayed with us for about six months and decided that they could never go back to Colombo. We didn’t have anything to go back to. We didn’t know if Fernando Road was still in tact and we simply didn’t have the courage to go back to where it all began. My brother and his family left to the United Kingdom in early January 1984. My sister and her family who had narrowly escaped while in Malaysia at the time of the riots stayed there for another six months, went to Brunei from there and decided to settle in Canada three years later. My mom went to India with my other brother when my dad was killed in a 1987 Army shooting. I stayed back home for a year and left for UK in 1985 to live with my brother once again and was then sponsored to Canada by my sister’s family in 1990.

25 years later, I am now married, with a son and a daughter. My mother also lives with me. My wife, who also fled the war, is aching to go back home and visit. I for one, will never go back. I will never go back to a country that has and continues to massacre so many of my people. I will never go back to a country that doesn’t respect nor acknowledge the rights of a Tamil human being; a country that simply has no law and order. But above all, I will never go back to a country that took away everything that we had and made our own soil seem foreign to us.

Some may say that I am a coward, for running away. Some may say that I am stubborn for not wanting to go back. But, not everyone knows how it felt like to wait in a house, looking out your window, waiting for your death. Some would say that confidence is the ability to charge forward without taking a look back, yet I have learned that looking back once in a while, remembering where I come from, will assist in the forging of a much clearer path for my future. After hearing about the many acts of injustices, from the burning of a library to the bombing of a school, I am constantly reminded of how proud and fortunate I am to be a Canadian citizen. Though I am here in Canada, my roots remain back home. I constantly keep myself informed about the events of back home, I contribute where I can and above all, I pray everyday that we will get Tamil Eelam. I will be happy when that day arrives, but I will never go back. I simply cannot go back. Those memories remain too fresh in my mind. Closing my eyes, I can feel the terror. The fear. I can feel the heat of the cargo ship floor. Above all, I can feel that undying sense of uncertainty; not knowing if tomorrow would ever come and where it would take me.

I now know. It has taken me to Canada and I am thankful for that. My family is thankful. Canada is now my home. I will remain attached to my soil back home but everything that my life entails will only happen here. I believe that I speak on behalf of all survivors when I say that though it has been 25 years since Black July, the wounds remain fresh… the memories remain fresh… and as unfortunate as it may be, this crime against humanity remains a very sad reality for my people back home.

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