Tamil refugee boy adjusting to life in Canada

  • September 2, 2010
Piratheeprajh VijayarajarajanBRAMPTON, ONT. - Eight months after teenaged Tamil refugee Piratheeprajh Vijayarajarajan arrived in Canada he’s taken on the look of a broad-shouldered young athlete — a contributor to his Brampton cricket club. But the young man is still painfully shy, unsure of his English, wary of strangers.

He’s grateful for the reception he’s had in Canada, and hopes the 492 Tamils who recently arrived in British Columbia aboard the MV Sun Sea will have a similar opportunity to take up their lives again.

“I wish they would be welcomed by Canada,” Vijayarajarajan said in Tamil, translated by his uncle Guna Thuraisingham. “I strongly believe they are victims of the war. I pray they won’t be sent back... They suffered over three months on the sea. They are definitely refugees.”

Now 15, Vijayarajarajan was spirited out of Sri Lanka at the age of 13 during the violent final phase of that country’s civil war. The boy’s parents paid an agent to get him out of the war zone to Colombo at first. As the war escalated, the goal was to get Vijayarajarajan out of the country.

He wound up in Accra, Ghana, but soon thereafter the agent disappeared and Vijayarajarajan was alone in the African capital, unable to speak the language. Vijayarajarajan’s case eventually came to the Office for Refugees, Archdiocese of Toronto, where executive director Martin Mark thought the boy was clearly a minor at risk who required expedited treatment.

Canada’s high commission in Accra disagreed, saying there was no urgency and Vijararajarajan would be subject to the usual 37-month processing time. It was only when a letter from the United Nations High Commission for Refugees arrived urging expedited treatment for the then 14-year-old that Canadian officials relented, issued a visa and put him on a plane to Toronto in January.

Since he has arrived, Vijayarajarajan has moved with his uncle’s family into a new house in Brampton, enrolled in school, taken extra English lessons at Kumon, joined a cricket club and settled into family life.

Among the more memorable events was his opportunity to say thanks to Scarborough’s Prince of Peace parish. The parish backstopped Thuraisingham’s refugee application for his nephew.

Vijayarajarajan appreciates the peace and freedom he has experienced in Canada.

“In Sri Lanka we went through a lot of trouble. People were dying in front of me,” he said.

Though he misses his parents, whom he hasn’t heard from in more than a year, Vijayarajarajan appreciates living in a place where he can read Tamil newspapers, pray at a Hindu temple, eat Tamil food and still fit in.

“I’m not a stranger in this country. I see all kinds of different people,” he said.

Thuraisingham is hopeful he may one day hear from his brother, whom he believes is still interred with thousands of Tamils in one of several government camps run by Sri Lanka’s military in the north of the country.

Thuraisingham said his family has been on the run from both the Tamil Tigers and government forces for years. Thuraisingham’s brother sent Vijayarajarajan out of Sri Lanka for fear that the Tamil Tigers would demand that the boy fight in the war and fear that the military would kill or arrest him on the assumption that all young Tamil males are Tamil Tiger guerillas.

Vijayarajarajan has no doubt the 492 Sun Sea migrants are refugees.

“They definitely could be killed or arrested by the Sri Lankan army (if sent back),” he said. “I’m worried about how they have suffered.”

In the mean time, Vijayarajaran starts Grade 10 this month. He continues to dream of one day seeing his whole family reunited.

See: Sri Lankan teen finally united with Toronto family

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