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November 14, 2017
11 months

What is the issue?

  • Over 1 lakh Sri Lankan Tamil refugees have been living in Tamil Nadu ever since the anti-Tamil pogrom of 1983.
  • India and Sri Lanka should take up their repatriation at the earliest.

What are the problems they face?

  • Recently, media focus has been on the Rohingya refugees in India.
  • But the plight of Lankan Tamil refugees, who have been here for nearly 35 years, has gone out of public consciousness.
  • The pathetic condition of shelters, restrictions on movement, and limited scope of livelihood opportunities affect the community.
  • The refugees also suffer from social and psychological problems as reports of suicides, school dropouts and child marriage show.
  • Many middle-aged refugees worry about their children’s future, given the fact that 40% of camp refugees are below 18 years.
  • Among the Hill country Tamils of central Srilanka (Tea estate Tamils of Indian origin) statelessness is a major problem.

What have been the efforts to repatriate?

  • Tamil politicians in Srilanka have been very keen & positively inclined to get these people across the Palk Strait.
  • Also, as 28,500 refugees are said to be stateless, the Sri Lankan government, amended its laws to address this in 2009.
  • Indian government along with United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) also speeded up repatriation efforts in recent years.
  • Yet, the voluntary reverse flow of refugees hasn’t been significant even after the end of the Eelam War in 2009.
  • In the past 8 years, hardly 10% of the refugee population (9,238 people) have gone back. 

What are the reasons?

  • Pull Factor - Over 62 thousand refugees have been receiving various relief measures of the Central and State governments.
  • Notably, Tamil Nadu government recently even announced measures to facilitate the refugees to take up professional courses.  
  • Hence, regardless of the quality of housing and jobs, several refugees have experienced an improvement in their lifestyle.
  • Besides, a whole new generation has been raised completely in Tamil Nadu for whom Srilanka has become an alien country.
  • Push factor – Many refugees have no hope of a better future in Srilanka.
  • This feeling has strengthened by UNHRC surveys that have found a “lack of livelihood opportunities”, for refugee who returned.
  • This situation may not improve in the near future given the state of the Sri Lankan economy.
  • Also, hill country refugees are landless and will not be inclined to go back unless provided land.
  • They also seem uninterested to work in tea plantations as labourers for meagre wages anymore. 

How does the future look?

  • Tamil Nadu holds the distinction of hosting the largest number of refugees in India.
  • While repatriation isn’t currently a priority for both India and Sri Lanka, it can’t be delayed for ever.  
  • While for India a long-standing problem would be resolved, for Sri Lanka it would be a step towards ethnic reconciliation.
  • All concerned governments should come out with a fair package for repatriation, with due consideration for the aspirations of refugees.
  • For those who want to stay back, India can consider providing them citizenship, like how Pakistani refugees were given.


Source: The Hindu

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