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From exile to asylum: A Sri Lankan freelancer's experience

From exile to asylum: A Sri Lankan freelancer's experience

Since I joined the Trust in early 2015, I have been following the story of Darshini, a Sri Lankan freelance journalist who was forced into exile in 2010.

Darshini's story is an example of how exile is often a long and very difficult journey for many of the freelancers the Trust supports, but it is also a story with an inspiring ending and an example of how the Trust’s continued, long-term assistance can help to make a real difference to the lives of freelancers.

In 2009 Darshini (not her real name), her husband, and their daughter Leela, were living in an area of Sri Lanka controlled by the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE), a secessionist opposition group at war with the Sri Lankan state. Darshini and her husband were both working as freelance journalists. During the final months of the war, Darshini’s husband was killed in a government bombardment and shortly afterwards she almost lost her life when she was shot. In the following months, Darshini was interrogated and tortured by the government forces for her journalistic activities. Fearing for her life, and for the future of her child, she fled to seek asylum in a nearby country. When they left, Leela was three years old, and had never experienced peace.

Darshini spent the next five years in limbo as a refugee. The Trust assisted Darshini during the long wait for the decision on their asylum application. As refugees, Darshini and Leela were regularly placed in a detention centre where Darshini’s health, already weakened by the war, deteriorated. As she was constantly being moved in and out of detention, it was impossible for Darshini to earn even a basic living. During this difficult period , the Trust was able to ensure medical help for Darshini and access to school for Leela whenever they were not detained. At a time when the uncertainty of the asylum seeking process added further distress to the traumas they had already endured back home, our support was able to provide some stability to their lives.

In May 2015 Darshini and Leela were finally granted asylum in Europe. After five years of instability in exile, Darshini finally has a promise of a place of her own and education for Leela. For the first time since the war, Darshini can plan ahead for a future.

Darshini’s story has a hopeful ending. But, as with so many other Sri Lankan freelancers, she is unable to return home. Over 50 Sri Lankan journalists continue to live in exile, according to Journalists for Democracy in Sri Lanka (JDS). Further, The Trust has supported nine Sri Lankan freelance journalists who have been forced into exile after 2009. Despite the declared peace, the threats to journalists persist and Sri Lankan journalists continue to live as refugees around the world.


Tora Toreng was the Trust's Researcher for South and South East Asia.

Photo by Climatalk .in (2005): A group of Sri Lankan Tamil refugees arrives in Rameshwaram island of Tamil Nadu after a risky 30-mile boat ride across the Palk Straits.

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