Early-Phase Asylum Migration
1983 to 1985
It is estimated that around 7,000 Tamils left Sri Lanka during 1983 to seek political asylum in the West. West Germany received the largest number of asylum requests (2,654), followed by Switzerland (845). Other European countries, notably Britain, France and Scandinavia each received between two and three hundred asylum applicants. Little is known about the composition of these first arrivals in Europe. From the dossiers of the Swiss Federal Office for Refugees, however, a number of patterns emerge.
It is clear from the dossiers that in 1983 a pattern of entry into Switzerland was established, in which Germany provided the first port of call for asylum migrants. European governments were not, at this time, enforcing a policy of 'country of first asylum', and asylum seekers were able to move fairly freely between European countries, often lodging more than one application for asylum. The Tamil asylum population in Germany was small and not yet well established. There was a sort of frontier spirit amongst these earliest asylum migrants which encouraged Tamils to move into towns which were not yet 'settled' by other migrants, thus opening up employment opportunities. Tamils were very much 'good Europeans' in the sense that borders separating European countries were not thought of as insurmountable obstacles, and the Maastricht principle of 'free movement' was a given. Switzerland was seen, in a sense, as an extension of Germany, but providing richer opportunities and greater security through social assistance provisions. The majority of those applying for asylum in Switzer