Sri Lanka: Engaging the Diaspora (Page 2 of 2)

The final report of the LLRC recommended that the Sri Lankan government create a multi-disciplinary task force that would include representatives from the Presidential Secretariat, the External Affairs and Defence ministries, the private sector and academia, to propose a program of action to harness the untapped potential of the expatriate community, and to respond to the concerns of hostile diaspora groups, and engage them constructively with the government and other stakeholders involved in the reconciliation process.

There may be advantages in going one step further and setting up an Office of Diaspora Affairs. The roles and responsibility of the office would include an emphasis on highlighting the importance of diaspora engagement in reconstruction and capacity-building; and an identification and assessment of diaspora organizations and individuals, and the contributions they can make towards reconciliation, peace-building and nation-building. It must be stressed that diaspora contributions ought not be limited to the financial or commercial realms, but should also include technical and professional expertise. The office would ensure that the diaspora contribution match Sri Lanka’s needs, priorities and capacities.

An Office of Diaspora Affairs would also seek to encourage visits to Sri Lanka for disillusioned members of the diaspora community so they can assess for themselves what is taking place and what remains to be done, and more importantly, how they themselves need to be a part of the country’s plans and future. Every effort should be made to build loyalty and seek to neutralize and counter hostility, misperceptions and grudges, real or otherwise.

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Avenues of diaspora engagement that are likely to be most beneficial for the long-term development of the country must be identified. In addition to the all-important contribution to national stability and the political future, the diaspora could be invaluable in supplementing local capacities through the formation of a global exchange of knowledge.

Ultimately, the dividends of successful engagement with Sri Lanka’s diaspora will be felt by the country through improved relations between communities, increased national unity and stability, and more positive international positioning. Diaspora engagement is not a small or easy task but it is one that can no longer be overlooked in any effort to take the country forward towards genuine reconciliation.

Salma Yusuf is a human rights lawyer and development practitioner working on both national and international programs in the fields of governance, transitional justice and reconciliation. She may be contacted at [email protected]

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