The Segaran Family
The riots that erupted in Colombo, Sri Lanka, in 1983 were the beginning of the end of life as the Segaran family had known it. By that time, deteriorating employment prospects for Tamils had already forced Siva Segaran to look for work outside Sri Lanka. Siva hailed originally from Jaffna, the traditional homeland of the Tamils in Sri Lanka. At the time of the riots, he was working abroad in Qatar, as a storekeeper for a hardware company in the small town of Doha.
During the riots, the Segaran house was razed to the ground and their possessions were looted. Vaseeharan, their only son, who was seven years old at the time, went missing for several days. After Indira found her son, she fled with him, her two young daughters, and her elderly father on a perilous journey to the refugee camps in northern Sri Lanka. The camps proved to be no safer than Colombo.
Siva returned as quickly as he could to Sri Lanka and relocated the family to Jaffna. There, the new home they were building was destroyed even before it was finished. With the ethnic conflict escalating, Siva and Indira realized that they would have to leave Sri Lanka to survive.
A relative in Montreal urged Siva to consider Canada as a country of first asylum. At that time, Canada made special provision under a newly established program specifically for Sri Lankans who were affected by the events in Colombo. Canada also offered the possibility of full citizenship to these same newcomers. To reach Canada, however, would require a long and covert journey through Germany, France, and Italy.
In late 1984, Siva flew with five other Tamil men from Colombo to East Berlin, where they were admitted across the Berlin Wall to West Berlin on only a one-week visa. They took a train to the West German/French border where they stayed with other Tamil contacts. A German driver was bribed to drive them into France. Six Tamil men squeezed into a tiny two-wheel 'pet carrier' hitched to the back of the German driver's car. It was a six-hour drive in cold November. They stayed a week in Paris.
Without proper visas, Siva and his associates could not enter Italy, where his brothers lived. Finally, they bribed the conductor of a train to put them in a rarely checked VIP compartment. They crossed the border undetected and stayed with relatives for two months just outside Rome in the town of Magliana.