Hundreds of Sri Lankan Tamil refugees who continue to languish in India are expecting a solution to their concerns from Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe.
When the war ended in 2009, many did think it was time to go home. But those who returned found that their land continued to be inhospitable, deterring those thinking of returning, the Times of India reported.
Based on their experiences, Organisation for Eelam Refugees Rehabilitation (OfERR), an NGO working for the Lankan refugees in India and Sri Lanka, submitted a set of proposals that would guarantee a minimum livelihood for returnees. But a year has passed. Now the refugees are hoping that the issue would be taken up when the newly elected Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe visits New Delhi next week.
“After 17 consultation meetings with the refugees in the 112 camps in Tamil Nadu, we submitted out petition to the Indian and Sri Lankan governments in September last year. We have requested for seven stages of repatriation, which includes a regular ferry service and a package from the Indian government till the refugees find their own footing,” said S C Chandrahassan, founder of OfERR.
Ahilan Kadirgamar, a researcher and a political economist based in the Tamil-dominated northern region of Sri Lanka, isn’t surprised the refugees are reluctant to return home since the Tamil regions in the island nation are reeling under a severe economic crisis. “Incomes have fallen drastically, there is massive indebtedness and unemployment. The Indian and Sri Lankan governments need to get together to form a support package for these refugees for at least a year after they get home,” he said.
While some refugees in Tamil Nadu raised fears over security issues, activists based in Sri Lanka said there was a marked improvement in the security situation after the new government took charge.
As Sri Lanka and India work out a concrete roadmap for these refugees, members of the refugee community continue to risk their lives in the hope of leading a more dignified life. Activists pointed to the fact that while Europe has woken up to the human cost of the refugee crisis, closer home Sri Lankan refugees continue to die while illegally trying to cross to Australia. “There’s no number to their deaths. No phone calls home to tell their loved ones they’ve reached safely. None have returned. It could either mean they have finally found a home they can call their own, or they never set foot on a shore after leaving,” said advocate P Pugazhendi, a lawyer who has for years advocated for the refugees.
However, what needs to change more urgently is India’s attitude to refugees in general. India must remain open to all those seeking refuge, and not just those fleeing religious persecution. Although not a signatory to the 1951 UN Refugee Convention, under which it would have been obliged not to send refugees back to a territory against their will if they fear threats to life or freedom, India cannot escape its responsibilities under the Universal Declaration of Human Rights to respect the rights and freedoms of all people in its territories.