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Tamil group issues warning about people-finding service

June 19, 2009
The Star – Tamil group issues warning about people-finding service

Canadian Tamil organizations are warning Toronto Tamils not to send money to a Sri Lankan company offering to find missing family and friends in the wake of the country’s bloody 25-year civil war.

In a recent email sent to Tamil Canadian organizations, L. Jude Perera, who calls himself a consultant for Internally Displaced People Services, says for an initial fee of $25 (U.S.) his company based in the Sri Lankan capital, Colombo, will attempt to make contact with Tamils forced from their homes into military camps.

“We take this email seriously and are asking members of the community not to make any contact with this person,” said David Poopalapillai, a spokesperson for the Canadian Tamil Congress. “This company is totally inhumane. These people are trying to make money out of people’s misery.”

Poopalapillai says the emergence of such a business is a symptom of the Sri Lankan government’s reluctance to allow international aid agencies full access to its so-called “welfare villages,” where more than 250,000 ethnic Tamils are currently housed.

Perera says he is filling a need.

“There is some opportunity. There are people that are displaced and we can find out at which camp they are located,” Perera said in a telephone interview from his home in Colombo. “We are going to do a genuine job. We’re not interested in hoodwinking people.”

In the email, Perera says the firm offers a variety of other services, including delivery of goods to displaced family members, handling of some legal problems, and building monuments to lost relatives.

When asked how much it would cost to locate someone, Perera declined to give an estimate. “Everything is done on a piecemeal basis. We are responsible people. If we can make contact with your relative, we will tell you,” he said.

Scarborough resident Killivalavan Chelliah, 35, said he thought about responding to Perera’s proposal, but declined over worries the company might not be legitimate.

Chelliah, a Tamil who came to Canada nine years ago, is looking for his uncle, Ratna Sababaghy, 70, who disappeared last December.

“The Sri Lankan government doesn’t want to let the United Nations in, but they’re letting this guy get money from us,” he lamented. “How can he get into the camps?”

Chelliah said he’s worried that Tamil Canadians, desperate to find loved ones, will try anything, including sending money and personal information to strangers.

Liberal MP Bob Rae, who was denied entry to Sri Lanka last week while trying to meet with aid groups, said he’s not surprised to hear about such companies.

“Because the Sri Lankan government has made it so difficult for international agencies to get in, and for the (non-governmental organization) community to respond … , frankly I’m not surprised,” said Rae (Toronto Centre) “There’s obviously a tremendous human need for people to get contact, and the way the world works is if the service isn’t being provided by some form of government, then entrepreneurs will step in.”

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