Forschungsbericht - Detailinformation zum Projekt

project title

Social Change Among Sri Lankan Tamil Refugees in Switzerland


Switzerland in the 1990s had the largest relative Tamil population in Europe. Almost all of its members were refugees from Sri Lanka, and many of them had at that time already stayed for more than fifteen years in this country. Due to the continuation of the civil war in their homeland the Tamils have remained an important refugee group. Yet, in spite of its numerical significance, no research has so far been done on the internal social processes this refugee group has undergone in the context of migration and integration. In fact, the recent programme "Migration and Intercultural Relations" (NFP 39, 1996-2000) of the Swiss National Science Foundation does not contain a single study on Tamils in Switzerland. Moreover, research on Tamil populations in other Western societies has been equally scarce. The proposed study of social change among Swiss Tamil refugees of various caste and class affiliation will thus fill an important gap in the knowledge of this group. Besides, it will con-tribute to the deepening of ethnographic understanding and theory on processes of change in caste society and the influence of other social formations on these developments, on transnational relations, on the impact of migratory contexts on gender relationships, and on the change of social concepts and practices among second generation immigrants. In addition, the study has a clear practical aspect: Knowledge of social processes among Swiss Tamils will help social workers, medical practitioners and lawyers to identify and understand this migrant group's specific social and psychological problems. Study focus The research will concentrate on three Tamil castes respectively classes: On the high-caste Vellalar caste (Hindu) from the Pungudutivu island near Jaffna - mostly early immigrants and in the majority not practically involved in the armed struggle for liberation; on the middle-caste Karaiyar (Roman Catholics), who form the basis of the dominant militant group Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE), and who came to Switzerland at a later stage; and on caste-unspecific lowest caste and class immigrants who also immigrated later. This will allow to see, which impact the exile situation has on the social processes among Tamils with varying social, political, economic and religious background. The research will, moreover, particularly focus on women within these groups. The scarce data on Tamil refugees and the aim to understand social processes will necessitate questions concerning caste and class concepts and practices among their first and second generation, social networks, as well as marriage relationships and the status of women.

The research will rely on the standard anthropological techniques of participant observation and unstructured interviewing, complemented by the record of life histories and a small census of routine household data.

Funding: Swiss National Science Foundation (independent basic research)

project team

Prof. Dr. Wolfgang Marschall (PL), Dr. Damaris Lüthi (PL), lic.phil. Marie-Anne Fankhauser, lic.phil. Johanna Vögeli

project duration

04.2001 - 09.2003

university unit

Institut für Sozialanthropologie

research area

History and Classical Studies, Ethnology 

index terms

Tamil refugees, Gender relationships, Social and cultural change, Transnational relations, Caste today, Second generation, Switzerland

last update: 24.05.2006

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