Tamils working hard to get London Road back on its feet

8/8 ONE YEAR ON: Having escaped a bitter and destructive civil war, the local Tamil community is coping with the aftermath of the Croydon riots, ANDREW PELLING reports

Many buildings on London Road, Croydon, were wrecked a year ago, ruining the businesses of the local traders

Croydon’s Tamil community saw a lot of trouble back in Sri Lanka, including widespread abuse of their human rights. But last year’s riots struck the Tamils hard, with so many of their businesses based on London Road.

The Tamils have been spurred into action, playing an important part in attempts to rebuild the scarred neighbourhood. The Croydon Tamil Business Forum has been outspoken on behalf of traders, many of whom have been subject of intimidation from gangs of youths.

Since the riots, there has been a strong self-help approach taken by Tamils, with the setting up of “Help House” at 331 London Road, to serve all in the area with advice surgeries from Mike Selva, a councillor for Broad Green, as well as offering medical, police and legal advice surgeries.

The Tamils had to take action after the riots, Selva said. “I am not exaggerating, there is nowhere I can see that anything has been done,” he said.

The London Road project has been carried forward by community leaders. The Tamil community is large in Croydon. In local schools, the most-spoken languages are often Hindi and Tamil.

But Croydon’s Tamils are a community not at peace with itself. Gangs of Tamil youths are a problem across south London, including on London Road. Extortion is one gang tactic.

Nevertheless the Tamil Educational and Cultural Association (TECA) works hard with a Friday evening and Saturday school at West Thornton Primary to promote Tamil cultural performing arts and high GCSE exam results (Michael Gove permitting).

Troubles back in Sri Lanka that continue to haunt Croydon Tamils. TECA is providing money for education for war orphans in Sri Lanka.

The preacher at a recent memorial service in Croydon for what Tamils call “Black July“, a reprisal massacre by government troops in 1983, said: “The fact that we Sri Lankan Tamils are in diaspora as refugees for 30 years tells that we cannot live in our own country peacefully. The basic human rights have been violated from the beginning of the independence.”

Mike Selva, Labour councillor for Broad Green: he says little has been done for London Road since 8/8

Many Tamils are Christian. Tamils are also commonly active in charity work. Their families’ experiences in Sri Lanka puts into perspective many of the struggles caused by the aftermath of the Croydon riots.

But that has not deterred Croydon’s Tamils from trying to help those members of their community worst-hit by the arson and looting.

“One year on people are still thinking about it. Things are not as they seem to be and not how the people responsible are saying they are,” Selva said.

“There are shops that are struggling and because of the recession commercial rates are going up, but they can’t leave their shops because there are no jobs for them to go to. Some have had some money through, others have had none, a number of people are struggling.

“The council say they are waiting for this £23 million from the London Mayor, but the Mayor was very busy after the election, and then the Olympics. When is he going to open his generosity? We don’t know.”

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