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If I'm forced to quitUlster I'll be shot by the Tamil Tigers; REFUGEE DAD'S FIGHT AGAINST DEPORTATION.

Byline: BRENDAN ZECEVIC

WHEN Soma Nagarasa's son was murdered, he never had the chance to bury him.

There was no funeral and no time to grieve, just time enough for him and his family to sell their belongings and run for their lives.

They found themselves caught in the crossfire of a war in Sri Lanka between Government forces and the notorious Tamil Tigers.

Soma, his wife and four remaining children ended up in Northern Ireland three years ago. But although they've become part of the community they're faced with deportation back to Sri Lanka.

A distraught Soma said: "I have already lost one son, I don't want to lose any more of my children.

"Sending me back is the same as giving me a death sentence. If I go back then the Tamil Tigers or the army will kill me.

"The civil war in Sri Lanka had been going on for years. Friends and neighbours had been shot, bombed or disappeared - though it never affected me or my family. Until July 1, 2001.

"A friend told me my son had been shot and immediately I ran to see him. But when I got to the army checkpoint, I saw Karigalan, my own son, was lying on the ground, dead. I don't know why they shot him - but they did.

"The soldiers asked who I was, I told them I was his father, that they had shot my son and straight away they arrested me.

"I was held for five days and they tortured me, I thought I was going to die. But a friend managed to bribe a guard and I was released. If it wasn't for that I'd be dead."

Returning home he found his family had been attacked, the Tamil Tigers had come looking for Soma, suspecting he was giving information to the army.

Soma added: "It wasn't safe. We hid for a while before selling our house and leaving."

Along with his family Soma travelled to Europe, to what they were told was Moscow, and then on to the final and most dangerous leg of their journey where all six of them survived for four days in a sealed transport container.

"They never open the doors once," recalls Soma grimly. "When they did, we couldn't see. The light was blinding and it was cold. We were given pounds 20 and told to wait and someone would come back for us.

"But no one did. We waited for hours and we thought we were in London, we had no way to know that this was Belfast."

Since coming to Northern Ireland in 2001, they have integrated into the Newtownbreda community of South Belfast.

Unable to seek work, which Soma has found hard to deal with, the Nagarasas have spent their time doing volunteer work. Soma said: "Now I forget about Sri Lanka. We have found people here are very friendly and generous, and we've made so many friends here and this is our home now."

BUT his family now face being separated, left destitute and deported.

The Home Office has denied them asylum status and once again the family are living in fear.

Although there is a ceasefire in Sri Lanka, last year five friends of Soma's were killed, including the man who helped save the family.

Amnesty International's Patrick Corrigan said: "The family's story is typical. Quite often the Home Offices' information is either out of date or just wrong."

The decision to deny them refuge has been met with outrage by the family's friends and a campaign to halt their deportation is being led by Newtownbreda High School principal Norman Upritchard.

For Soma, the future looks dark. He added: "I don't like to ask people's help like this. Where I am from it is almost like begging. But I will do it to keep them safe.

"We are scared the immigration people will come in the night and take us away."

CAPTION(S):

WAR: Sri Lankan Tamil Tiger rebels; DISTRAUGHT: Soma Nagarasa yesterday
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Publication:The Mirror (London, England)
Date:Aug 16, 2004
Words:668
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