Read how Rajitha went from growing up under the hardship of Sri Lanka‘s civil war to becoming a human rights lawyer in our immigration team.
I was born and raised in North Sri Lanka. When I was five years old, civil war broke out with riots in my community followed by widespread massacres. My father was murdered when I was seven, so I was raised by my mother and my grandmother who were both teachers. We were living in Jaffna in the north of Sri Lanka which was badly affected by the war.
When I was nine, our house was bombed and although we survived, we lost everything. We moved to a new house but by now Jaffna was completely cut off from the rest of the country. Because of the fighting between the government and the rebels , no supplies were able to get in and we weren’t allowed to travel out of the region. We lived like this for seven years.
I was 17 when, one day, we were given half an hour to leave our house, so we just left with the clothes we were wearing and I managed to carry some books as well, and we set out through the jungle on foot to the central part of the country. We were internally displaced for eight months. I missed a year of my schooling but all the time I kept reading my books, studying by candlelight because we had no access to electricity. I know what it’s like to live through a war situation. I was a 17-year-old schoolgirl who witnessed and lived in one of the greatest humanitarian crisis of the civil war through no fault of my own. With much hardship, and after spending months in the camps for the displaced, both my mother and I managed to reach Colombo, the capital.
By now my GCSE advanced level exams were in two months. My family tried to dissuade me from taking my A Levels as I’d missed so much schooling, but I was determined to sit them. When I got my results, they were good enough for me to gain one of the 200 places at the Faculty of Law, University of Colombo.
After completing the training, I qualified with my LLB and became an Attorney-at-Law in Sri Lanka. Due to the uncertainty around my future in Sri Lanka, I decided that my best option was to leave the country and I applied for a visa to do a Masters in the UK.
I completed my Masters and got a job as a legal assistant in a private firm. I then applied for a job as an immigration advisor with South West London Law Centres, and I’ve been here ever since. During my time at SWLLC I was also able to qualify as a Solicitor.
Within the immigration team at SWLLC, I specialise in asylum, immigration, human rights and public law. I show special interest in women’s issues, such as domestic violence, FGM, honour-based killings, forced marriage, trafficking and unaccompanied minors, and I also have experience dealing with severely mentally ill clients, such as those diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), paranoid schizophrenia, Bipolar Disorder, and high suicide risk. This wasn’t something I’d planned to do – human rights isn’t considered an aspirational career in Sri Lanka and so I didn’t learn anything about humanitarian law or torture or trafficking when I was training – but I find past my experience motivates me to help people.
“My experience as a war survivor perhaps made me a human rights lawyer and persuades me to represent innocent war victims who flee persecution. When clients tell me their stories of detention, interrogation and torture, I see myself in there.”