In April and May of 1985 Tamils started fleeing from Srilanka in large numbers without their destination and one such group who landed up in UK claimed asylum at the Heathrow Airport. Among them those who had relatives or friends in UK got released while the remaining members were held in Ashford remand centre. After few weeks their asylum claim was refused and a removal order was served. Subsequently 3 of them were deported and 56 Tamil refugees were given deportation order to be removed in the following day. This removal triggered a group of the Tamil detainees and they managed to contact the MP Mr.Jeremy Coben. With his prompt action all the removal orders were suspendered and after few days they were released on temporary admission. Out of the few who were released some of them ended up in east London and these individuals who began their life in UK as a group slowly started sharing their experiences with other newcomers in the community. They then realised the need for an organisation to handle the removal and detention related issues and settlement matters of the refugees.
In May 1986 the organisation had their inaugural meeting and formally it was constituted as a community organisation in September 1986. During this period the members of the group assisted many other Tamil refugees by finding them with suitable accommodation, helping them to face the interviews and release them from detention. They also helped them find a shelter by finding suitable addresses in the community and stopping deportation through finding a solicitor to take legal action against the removal and also to seek employment for their survival.
In the end of the year 1986 the organisation successfully negotiated with Newham council and obtained 15 unused 2 bedroom flats in North Woolwich area of Newham and later the organisation played a major role to influence the Newham council to make positive policy making through their race equality unit at Town hall. As a result of this policy refugees of all national were able to study in full time or part time basis with nominal fee. Apart from this the organisation also worked for the refugees who were possessing only temporary admission documents for consideration under the social housing.
Later the organisation formed two separate wings for tackling single person’s accommodation problems by forming Newham Tamil Community Housing cop and obtained the unwanted unused council properties from Newham council and the property improvement grants from housing association to bring those properties to living standards and started to accommodate single Tamil refugees in the Borough. While Newham Tamil women’s Association was formed to specialize in women’s issue related work. Moreover the organization took initiative to form an umbrella body called the Newham Tamil community council which included London Tamil Sangham, London Sri Murugan Temple and Tamilar Munetra Kalagam.
The organisation has developed a very good working relationship with the immigration authorities due to its innumerable ventures. The main reason behind this was the support the organisation gave to detainees in the form of food and accommodation as requested by the immigration officers at parts. This way the burden of the Home Office was reduced and on the other hand unwanted detention was prevented to a greater extent. This had been the case on several occasions but to quote an example; in 1986 we took in charge of 25 asylum seekers from Gatwick Airport who could not be sent to detention centres and the only solution without our intervention being deportation.
The organisation also tackled unwanted arrest and other form of harassment by police towards those who were not holding passport by closely working with race equality council of the Newham council and police community consultative group of Newham to improve the police relationship with Tamil Community. However this initiative did not lead to satisfactory results and hence the representatives Mr.V.Thigal and V.jana met the minister for Police Mr.Hogg at the Home Office on the 23rdof March 1987.Following his involvement a circular was sent to all the police stations in the London Boroughs explaining about the facts related to refugees like the temporary admission and an order to stop unnecessary arrest and harassment.
In May 1986 we conducted our first cultural evening at St.Bathalomious Church hall and in 1987 the annual program was conducted at youth centre at Wordsworth Avenue, manor Park it conducted its annual program and from then on the tradition has been carried on.
The community relationship with other wider community worsened by the racist arson attack at the Burges road, East Ham, as a result of which 3 Tamil refugees were killed and 3 others sustained serious injuries. After the inquest as they had no other family members TWAN took the initiative to conduct their funeral with the help of the Newham council funding assistance.
In the end of 1986 at Harwich we took the responsibility of two refugees who were detained in the ship Earl William. A Press conference was held on that day along with MP Keith Vaz to bring awareness about this issue. TWAN continued the work and it so happened that the ship Earl William which was anchored in the coast was carried away to the middle of the sea due to rain storm and owing to safety reasons all the detainees in the ship were released and the majority of the inmates who were Tamils were taken under the custody of Tamil welfare association. After this incident the organisation took initiative to set up a project with the support of the Newham monitoring project and Newham council to help the victims of racial harassment and also to improve the race relations in east London. Mr.Jana was recruited to implement this project with along with another part time worker.
In the middle of 1988 a shop in 33, station road, Manor park was obtained by the organisation after seeking permission from the council to providing office based services by TWAN.
In 1989 we conducted our first summer holiday play scheme at the St.Paul’s Church Hall, East Ham in which around 25 children participated. Following this it became our regular event. In 1989 for the first time our organisation obtained the grant aid from the trust for London to meet the office running costs. Following this we shifted from part time advice sessions to provide advice in the regular office hours with volunteers support. In 1989 the case Vilvarajah Vs Secretary of State was won and out of these 5 individuals 2 were of our clients and had involved in making their appeal. In 1990 with Newham council grant for 2 years and National lottery fund we are continuing these services.
In 1991 London Borough of Newham council funded for a full time paid worker along with the funds for providing the services. Later in 1994 when the council decided to withdraw the funding prematurely we were almost in the verge of collapse but survived with the help of the volunteers and members financial assistance.
In 1993 to 1994 the home office actively refused Tamil asylum seekers claim and intended to remove them as quickly as possible. In this time we started taking legal case work along with advice work in a more intensive and structured manner.In the end of this year after we ran the project for some time with volunteers, we with the help of the fund sanctioned by the city parochial fund were able to continue our services for 2 more years. In 1994 we started our Day centre in Tamil House for the elders in the Tamil community. The supplementary classes for the refugee children were started in the year 1992. The fine arts classes were started in 1996.
In 1996 the National Lottery Board funded for 1 full time advisory worker and 1 part time out reach and development worker until 2002. The National Lottery Board didn’t extend its funding further which again led to a very tough situation for the organisation but the organisation again was able to run with the help of its volunteers for almost 10 months after this funding was stopped.
In the 1997 as a part of our ongoing legal casework we represented many asylum seekers cases at the immigration tribunal and fought for their rights. While this service was progressing one of our client’s ( Kumarakuruparn Vs Secretary of state CO/1691/01 EWHC/ 112 admin) was removed by the home office illegally while his appeal was outstanding. We successfully took injunction against the removal through Counsel Mr.Simon Cox through an injunction order. The judge had ordered the home office to bring the client back to UK in the next flight. As a result of this we were able to put a curb on the mass deportation of detainees who were detained by the Home Office illegally when the appeal is yet to be decided.
In 2002 we shifted from the station road to 602, Romford road following the need for the infrastructure to accommodate the extended services. This descison was taken with a long term focus in mind and the office premise includes both the 1st and ground floor of the building.
In 2003 specialist quality mark was awarded by the Legal service commission and in 2004 we got civil legal aid contract funding and expanded our services. We also notice in our service that European community law attracts many of the Tamil Population. They who started the Journey from Srilanka without any destination tend to end up in many part of the world and most of them went to Europe as because many European countries were signatories of the UN refugee convention. Some of the same family siblings got dispersed to different European countries and if one sibling gained Nationality of that country it is natural for that sibling to wish to reunite with his or her brother in the other European member state.
Similarly in 2008 one of our client Mr.KG’s brother who have been granted with refugee status initially in Germany and later obtained the citizenship in Germany was exercising Rome treaty rights under the European community law. Accordingly when he started working in UK he made the application for a residency certificate to Home office UK with his brother (KG as a dependent relative) because KG wasn’t successful with his asylum claim and he remained in UK on temporary admission while his human rights claim was under consideration. The home office refused the KG’s Residency card application stating that KG didn’t come with his brother from Germany. However we argued that KG lived with his brother in Srilanka and he was looked after and financially supported by his brother over the 10 years of period as KG was not allowed to work or not eligible to get any support from UK government as a failed asylum seeker. According to the European community case law MRAX, Commission Vs Spain & Akrich we argued that Mr.KG is a dependent of his brother and therefore he should be given residency card (case no :C5/2007/1440/2210). The lower court of the immigration tribunal did not accepted our argument but we advanced this case to high court to find the correct interpretation of European court of Justice on European community law of family member entitlement (Jia of ECJ in 33). While this case was being heard by the House of Lords the home office granted indefinite leave to remain to KG and hence we were unable to proceed with this case further and urge the British decision makers to take decision in line with European court of Justice and honour their obligations under the international law and convention.
The organisation’s legal advice and casework became the imperative not only to the Tamil community but also to other ethnic minority groups as they are also benefiting from the work that we tend to take up. Recently one of our clients Nationality application was refused without any appeal rights by the home office stating that he failed the good character test as he had confessed in his asylum interview that he had political connections with LTTE in Srilanka. We challenged this home office decision by lodging a judicial review at the administrative court as our client had not committed any crime and supporting LTTE was not an offence during the period of his involvement and further many Tamils who were granted with citizenship earlier were supporters of LTTE. Our appeal was accepted for that particular case Thamby Chockalingam Vs Secretary of state (case ref CO/12435/2009) .