July 1983: Anti-Tamil riots in Colombo, Sri Lanka led to Tamil refugees fleeing the country in big numbers
Spring 1985: One such group landed in the UK and claimed asylum at Heathrow Airport. Those among them with friends or relatives in the UK already were released while the remaining members were held at Ashford Remand Centre. Their asylum claims were refused a few weeks later and a removal order was served. The Tamil detainees contacted MPs for support. With the prompt action from Rt Hon Jeremy Corbyn MP, the removal orders were suspended and the detainees were released on temporary admission. Some of those released ended up in East London and these individuals who began their lives in the UK as a group slowly started sharing their experiences with other newcomers in the community. They realised there was a need for an organisation to handle the removal and detention related issues and settlement matters of the refugees.
May 1986: The organisation had its inaugural meeting. We also conducted our first cultural evening at St.Bartholomew’s Church hall. This tradition has carried on every year since.
September 1986: TWAN was formally constituted as a community organisation. During this period, the members of the group assisted many other Tamil refugees by helping them to find suitable accommodation and employment, helping them to face the Home Office interviews and in assisting with their release from detention. Many deportations were stopped by finding lawyers to take up legal action on behalf of those being threatened with deportation.
Winter 1986: The organisation formed two separate wings for tackling single people’s accommodation needs forming Newham Tamil Community Housing and the Newham Tamil Women’s Association. Newham Tamil Community Housing successfully negotiated with Newham council and obtained fifteen unused flats in North Woolwich. Using property improvement grants from housing associations, we brought those properties up to decent living standards and accommodated single Tamil refugees in the borough. The Newham Tamil women’s Association specialised in women’s issues.
The organisation also played a major role in influencing Newham council to introduce positive policies through their race equality unit at the Town hall. As a result of this policy, refugees of all nationalities were able to study on a full or part time basis, paying only nominal fees. We also tackled unwarranted arrests and other forms of police harassment directed at those who did not have passports by closely working with the race equality team in Newham council and with the police themselves.
We formed an umbrella body called the Newham Tamil community council which included London Tamil Sangham, London Sri Murugan Temple and Tamilar Munetra Kalagam.
November 1986: A racist arson attack at a residential property on Burges road, East Ham, killed 3 Tamil refugees and 3 others sustained serious injuries. As they had no family members living in the UK, TWAN took the initiative to conduct their funerals with the help of the community and with council funding assistance. After this incident the organisation took the initiative to set up a project with the support of the Newham monitoring project and Newham council to help the victims of racial harassmen,t 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.
December 1986: We took up the responsibility of two refugees who were detained in the ship Earl William at Harwich. TWAN vigorously campaigned against the detention of refugees offshore. While this was happening, the ship which was carried away to the middle of the sea one night due to a heavy storm. Following this incident, all the detainees on the ship were released for wellbeing concerns, and the majority of the inmates who were Tamil were taken under the care of Tamil welfare association.
March 1987: TWAN representatives Mr.V.Thigal and V.Jana met the Minister for Police Mr.Hogg at the Home Office March 1987.Following his involvement a circular was sent to all the police stations in London boroughs explaining the facts related to refugees like the temporary admission and an order to stop unnecessary arrest and harassment.
Summer 1988: We obtained premises at 33 Station Road, Manor park after seeking permission from the council to providing office-based services.
Summer 1989: We conducted our first summer holiday play scheme at the St.Paul’s Church Hall in East Ham, in which 25 children participated. Following this, it became a regular event.
For the first time, our organisation also obtained the grant aid from the Trust for London to meet 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. Two of the five named individuals were our clients and we had been heavily involved in making their appeal.
1990: Newham Council grant and National Lottery Fund provided us with grants allowing us to continue and build the legal advice services.
1991: Newham Council funded a full time paid worker along with the funds for providing the services.
1992: Supplementary classes for refugee children were started.
1993: The Home Office began to actively refuse Tamil asylum seekers’ claims and intended to remove them as quickly as possible. In this time, we ramped up legal case work.
1994: We started our Day centre in Tamil House for the elders in the Tamil community. During this year, the council suddenly decided to withdraw our funding prematurely. the organisation almost collapsed but survived with the help of the volunteers and members’ financial assistance.
1996: Fine arts classes were started. The National Lottery Board also began to fund a full time advisory worker and a part time outreach and development worker.
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 sought an injunction against the removal through Counsel Mr.Simon Cox. The judge ordered the Home Office to bring the client back to UK on the next flight. As a result of this, we were able to curb the mass deportation of detainees who were detained by the Home Office illegally when the appeal is yet to be decided.
2002: We moved from the office on Station Road to our current premises at 602 Romford Road due to the need for the infrastructure to accommodate our expanding service provision.
2003: We were awarded the Specialist Quality Mark by the Legal Services Commission
2004: We got a civil legal aid contract and expanded our services with the funding.
We began to undertake more EU law related work especially regarding the freedom of movement and the exercise of Treaty rights. Many Tamils originally come via Europe and our work in this area remains high to this day.
2009: The organisation’s legal advice and casework became imperative not only to the Tamil community but also to other ethnic minority groups as they also tend to benefit from the type of work TWAN does. The war in Sri Lanka came to a gruesome end and our work continued as those fleeing Sri Lankan state violence increased again. One of our clients failed his nationality application without any appeal rights. The Home Office stated that he failed the good character test as he had confessed in his asylum interview that he had political connections with LTTE in Sri Lanka. 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. 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).