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
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
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
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