Last week, Seran Sribalan and Vishna Sivaraj finished a grueling 300 kilometre walk from Sydney to Canberra in a bid to focus attention on the plight of Tamils still trapped in concentration camps in Sri Lanka's north and east.
The Sri Lankan government declared an end to the latest phase of its four-year assault on the Tamil people in May. But about 300,000 people remain imprisoned in the death camps, unable to receive medical attention or enough food. Governments, including Australia's, have done nothing to pressure the Sinhala-chauvinist Rajapaksa government to stop this new phase of the war on the Tamil people.
But the Tamil community is re-organising for the next stage of struggle for self-determination, as the "300 kilometres for 300,000 lives" walk illustrates.
Sribalan first visited Jaffna, capital of Sri Lanka's Northern Province, in 2003, a visit he described as "bitter sweet". He met relatives and found out more about the long-term war that has engulfed his community. Explaining why he undertook the walk, he said: "Sadly, it is these same family members and friends who are currently detained within internment camps … They have become displaced within their own land ... there is no excuse for them to be there, the war is over, so why must they continue to suffer in camps?"
Sivaraj's first visit to Sri Lanka was to help victims of the Boxing Day tsunami. He stayed for four months and said the damage was "terrible", but what shocked him most was the "hardship, poverty and lack of facilities ... The north and east of the island, mainly populated by Tamils, bore the scars of a long and treacherous war where the civilians were truly the main victims. As we drove around the dirt roads we saw the ruined schools, churches, temples and houses."
The activists hoped their protest walk would force some action from the Australian government. They received messages of support, including from Liberal, ALP and Greens MPs and senators, and met many new friends along the way, but the Rudd government has remained silent.
Before they started the walk, they said it was the least they could do to help build solidarity with the Tamil people.
For their efforts to be successful, more people need to join the campaign to pressure the Australian government to do more than mouth platitudes.
As Sivaraj put it: "It is now in our hands to make a difference, as their cries for freedom fall on the deaf ears of the Sri Lankan military forces that control these camps."
[Visit Free300k.wordpress.com for more details of the walk and the campaign to free 300,000 people.]