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Sunday, 14 August 2016





Marriage Proposals
Government Gazette

Refugees from India eager to return, even if they have to:

Begin From The Beginning

- Pix: Kumarasiri Prasad


Refugees at the BIA last week

The trickle of refugees returning from India to Sri Lanka since 2012 is gradually gaining momentum with the situation in post war Sri Lanka beginning to look re-assuring for the Tamil refugees who fled the country decades ago.

A batch of 75 Lankans from Tamil Nadu returning to Mannar, Jaffna, Vavuniya, Kilinochchi, Trincomalee and Mullaitivu on Tuesday, signified this build up of confidence. Returning from Trichy, Chennai and Madurai, it was the biggest single group to come voluntarily in the recent past.

The government is yet to begin an advocacy strategy to bring back the refugees home, according to the Prison Reforms, Rehabilitation and Resettlement Ministry.

The recent repatriations of the refugees were facilitated by the UNHCR and the Resettlement Ministry with the Sri Lankan mission in Chennai helping the paper work.

There is clear enthusiasm from refugees to come home, but the independent groups working at ground level facilitating their return, lament that bureaucratic red tape is still a major hassle. OfERR Sri Lanka President and refugee advocate S.Sooriyakumari, says, the government is making efforts to facilitate the resettlement of refugees from India and a largely seamless system is in place. But, as regards action, there is still feet dragging. "Almost everyone who returned is happy to have come back, and are elated that they are not refugees living in a camp anymore. There is a sense of belonging."

Yet, Sooriyakumari says, the start up is hard and unpleasant. "These people come back with a few belongings in a suitcase. They have to start from scratch."

According to her, those who have lived many years in a refugee camp are used to a somewhat easy life. They were being cared for, provided with accommodation, financial assistance and food rations. Even their water and electricity bills were paid for. But, back in Sri Lanka the start up assistance will last for a limited period and thereafter, they will be on their own.

One may think, housing and livelihoods would be the biggest hurdles for them. However, Sooriyakumari said, the paperwork proves to be harder and obtaining the National Identity Card (NIC) is the hardest for the returnees.

The people born in India need to get their Sri Lankan citizenship sorted out, to apply for the NIC. Without the NIC even the educated are unable to find employment in the state or private sector. Most of the youth returning were either toddlers or weren't even born when their parents left Sri Lankan shores for fear of the violence unleashed during the conflict between the LTTE terrorists and the Government Forces, in the period 1983 to 2009.

The youth need to make an additional payment of Rs.25,000 to get Sri Lankan citizenship. They are not exempted from that penalty, and are required to submit about 12 documents in total, one of which includes the details of their great grandfather and the confirmation of their residency in Sri Lanka. In addition, they must submit their Indian birth certificate and the consular birth certificate.

The confirmation of residency is issued by the Grama Niladari. The document needs to be countersigned by the Divisional Secretary to be valid. Sometimes, Divisional Secretaries are ill informed of these procedures, and life then becomes difficult for the returnees.

Nearly 250 applications of citizenship, some who have come as early as 2010, are still pending. Sooriyakumari says, the government has promised mobile services to solve their immediate resettlement issues, which is a welcome move.

The Resettlement Ministry is facilitating training in the palmyrah trade, agriculture and fisheries sectors, for the refugees. However, for those who have been out of their traditional livelihoods for decades, it is not easy to start afresh.

One refugee had declared that, her husband, a fisherman before fleeing to India, had not ventured into sea for 26 years. "These are the issues we have to deal with," Sooriyakumari said.

After the government training, the returnees can apply for loans from state banks. They need a bank account to prove their trustworthiness. But, their ability to repay without a steady income is a major worry.

"Starting a new life here is not easy, yet, people opt to come back. Therefore, integration has to be encouraged by simplifying and relaxing rules and regulations for the war battered," she explained. There are also hurdles that need to be cleared for refugees who are willing and have the ability to resettle in their own lands. They need assistance to get the long abandoned lands inhabitable.


The UNHCR had been visiting the refugee camps in Tamil Nadu once a month and updating the Sri Lankans about waiting opportunities back in the island - in education, employment, freedoms and also the fact that they would no longer be second class citizens in Sri Lanka. There have been issues over limited higher education opportunities and employment in the state sector for the children of refugees in India. Last week, some 600 people protested in Chennai demanding freedom and opportunities.

The News Minute quoted one Dharmalingam Raja, 57, a daily paid worker among the protestors demanding citizenship. "Three generations of my family are living in India, my children and their children were born here, but are still not given citizenship in this country," Dharmalingam told News Minute. "Our children do not get proper jobs. Even if they achieve a college degree, private companies do not recruit them, neither can they apply for government jobs. Many of them end up doing daily paid work," he said. News of the development efforts of the once war torn regions in the North and East provinces and the ongoing reconciliation efforts of the government have reached the refugee community. They are optimistic of the happenings in Sri Lanka. Prison Reforms, Rehabilitation and Resettlement Ministry Secretary V.Sivagnanasothy said, it is just the beginning of the return of the remaining refugees in India. "Their confidence has been building and they are aware of the ongoing reconciliation efforts of the government," he said.

Of the 102, 000 refugees currently living in India, 64,000 are in 109 welfare camps. Others live with friends and relatives scattered throughout the state of Tamil Nadu."We see increasing numbers of people returning to the country on their own. The frequency of such trips is also increasing," the Ministry Secretary said.

He said, there is no pressure from the Sri Lankan government or the Indian government for their return. There was no aggressive campaign to bring back the refugees in Tamil Nadu. "We will do that after the remaining IDPs are resettled," he said.

The government is extending support to the UNHCR to resettle the refugees who come back willingly. Currently, the Government is discussing whether an advocacy strategy would be required to get the remaining refugees back. Asked about the news reports of the refugees selling human organs to buy illegal passage to Australia, he said, he cannot confirm about their accuracy. "There are news reports, but we haven't been able to verify the information." He said: "We have not received any formal complaints, and we have not heard from the Foreign Ministry either."


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