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Sri Lankan refugees in Tamil Nadu :

They want to come home

The Palk Straits, a narrow stretch of sea dividing Sri Lanka and India has many mythological and legendary stories about it since time immemorial.

Camps for Sri Lankan refugees in Tamil Nadu

Historically too it has remained significant in relation to Indo-Lanka relations and the vicissitudes of interactions between the peoples across it who belong to the same ethnicity.

The Straits, which has lately become the focal point of disputes between the fisher people of the two countries, witnessed the exodus of the Northern Tamils in their hundreds in the aftermath of the July '83 communal disturbances and the escalation of the civil conflict in the late 80s and early 90s.

Displaced, driven out, even running way, the Tamils escaped in fishing vessels and other small craft, leaving behind their homes, properties, agricultural lands and their loved ones.

A total of 334,797 people fled the country in the 22 years beginning 1983 through to 2005. About 40 percent of the exodus was recorded in the years 1983 - 1987, nearly 36 percent from 1989-1990, about 16 percent from 1995-2002 and eight percent after the Ceasefire Agreement (CFA) broke in 2005.

The remaining 40,000 are living outside the camps in different places in Tamil Nadu.

They do not have houses or lands of their own and they receive cash doles and other assistance, including for livelihood, education for the children and health from both the Indian centre and the Tamil Nadu state government, according to sources.

S. C. Chandrahasan

With peace and normal life restored in the Northern parts of the island, virtually all displaced people resettled in their original places of domicile and gradually returning to their traditional professions, the refugees in Tamil Nadu very much want to return to their motherland.

Assistance

However, according to NGOs working for the refugees, the resettlement of these people would be a Himalayan task given the fact that over 300,000 war-displaced people had to be resettled in the recent years, and provided with provision for infrastructure, housing and livelihood facilities.

A phased out return of the refugees with all structural arrangements for their resettlement and rehabilitation with assistance from international organisations, including the World Bank and the UNHCR, and the Government of India, leaders of organisations dealing with refugees told the 'Sunday Observer'.

Founder leader of the Organisation for Eelam Refugees' Rehabilitation (OfERR), S. C. Chandrahasan, working for the welfare of the Sri Lankan refugees in Tamil Nadu said the Government of India and the State Government of Tamil Nadu have done much, caring for the large number of refugees, extending them assistance for their livelihood, for the education of their children and also providing them health benefits and security. "Our refugees are all over the world but nowhere have we been so well treated as we have been in India," Chandrahasan said.

The UN calls this the best model of refugee welfare anywhere in the world. We will always be grateful. But, in spite of the long years that the refugees have lived with their Tamil Nadu brothers, they live as Sri Lankans and the desire at the bottom of the heart is to return to their motherland, he said. The OfERR has also presented a 48 point proposal on the repatriation and resettlement and rehabilitation of the refugees, which encompass various aspects of the process including resettlement and return of refugees, a political solution, protection and documentation in India.

The refugees in Tamil Nadu are not traumatised and, therefore, they will adapt to the reconciliation and rehabilitation process, Chandrahasan said. The refugees have been keenly observing the recent developments in Sri Lanka, he said. "The Indian Government and the Tamil Nadu state government should build houses for the people here, instead of spending huge amounts of money on the refugees there," Chandrahasan said.

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