Understanding When Extremism Gives Way to Moderate Politics: The Case of Sri Lanka, 1983–2016

This project examines why, despite expectations, the LTTE (‘Tamil Tigers’) has not returned to fighting. The research focuses on the role and significance of politics among diaspora Tamils, specifically the side-lining of pro-LTTE organisations in the post-2009 period, the fracturing of international separatist networks, and the rise of moderate politics.

The research analyses and draws out the wider significance of the post-2009 transnationalisation of Sri Lankan Tamil Eelamist politics and what this process reveals about the battle between ‘hard-liners’ (those who continued to support the LTTE’s aims and methods towards achieving a separate Tamil state in Sri Lanka) and the ‘moderates’ (largely maintaining support for separatism while rejecting the LTTE’s methods and increasingly focused on the issue of accountability for violations of international human rights law).

The focus on the development of post-conflict diaspora politics towards transnationalism enables the research to reconsider the 1983–2009 period of civil war to better understand what was happening in diaspora politics during the years of LTTE domination. This includes a detailed understanding of its political tactics, fundraising, propaganda, mobilisation, the role of leaders and the influence of national diaspora populations on political orientation and organisation.

Through reviews of existing literature, interviews with Tamil politicians, diaspora organisations and government agencies in the UK, Germany and Canada, the research addresses the significance of the organisational divisions that emerged in the immediate post-conflict period and important social changes within diaspora communities that helped to reshape politics.

While focusing on the case of Sri Lanka, the project has wider implications to the transnationalisation of conflict-related diaspora politics, particularly in conflicts with large refugee and asylum cross-border flows.

Research questions

  • What is the role of cosmopolitan justice and reconciliation-related values in the cessation of violent conflict?
  • How do diaspora groups understand, change understandings of, and react to conflict dynamics in their country of origin? How do those changes influence their role in post-conflict rebuilding efforts?
  • How can governments and security forces best prepare for the transformative character of diaspora politics when separatist groups control territory and where conflict results in large scale refugee and asylum flows?


From the Diasporisation to the Transnationalisation of Exile Politics – The Case of Sri Lanka, 1983-2016

Three CREST-funded Thematic Reports have been published which examine political action among diaspora populations. Migrant communities are increasingly recognised as critical actors in their...Read More »

Displacement and Transition Risks

Refugees often don’t have choices in the series of difficult transitions they make. Physical transitions across borders are fraught with danger, but also require...Read More »

Understanding Transnational Diaspora Politics: A Conceptual Discussion

This is the first of three CREST-funded Thematic Reports published by a team of researchers at City, University of London, and Cranfield University at...Read More »

The Engagement of Refugees in Transnational Politics: Lessons from the Migration, Diaspora and Refugee Studies Literature

18-035-01 Thematic Report Two (Small)This is the second of three CREST-funded Thematic Reports published by a team of researchers at City, University of London, and Cranfield University at...Read More »

Asylum, Security and Extremism

18-036-01 Thematic Report Three (Small)This is the last of three Thematic Reports published as part of a CREST-funded project carried out by a team of researchers at City,...Read More »

Sri Lanka, Diaspora Politics and The End of Violence

Christopher McDowell focuses on post-conflict Sri Lanka, and how Tamil diasporas helped prevent a return to violence in Sri Lanka. The defeat of the...Read More »

Principal investigator

Dr Christopher McDowell


City University London, UK