In a move that would benefit Sri Lankan refugees living in camps across the Tamil State who intend to return to the island-nation voluntarily, the UNHCR has assisted the Sri Lankan Government in increasing the flight baggage allowance for repatriating refugees by 20 kg. Now, the total entitlement is 60 kg per person.
“Following the UNHCR’s discussion with the Government of Sri Lanka on the need for increase in baggage allowance, the government has raised the limit for baggage for Sri Lankan refugees who are voluntary repatriating from India,” UNHCR spokesperson Shucita Mehta told The Hindu.
Presently, refugees who voluntarily return to the island-nation are sent back on board two airliners – SriLankan Airlines and Mihin Lanka.
After the ferry services were stopped, the refugees had been demanding an increase in the limit for luggage and this step would help them in better integration and give more confidence to them to return home, she said.
“We were initially told to pack our flight baggage not exceeding 40 kg and we had to choose what we have to take back. On Monday, they called to say it has been increased to 60 kg and we were able to take more,” said Rosaline Vaz from Adiyanuthu camp in Dindigul, who returned from Tiruchi. A total of 23 refugees returned to Sri Lanka on Tuesday.
Ms. Vaz had come to Rameswaram in July 1990 by boat as a pregnant woman and gave birth to her fourth child within few days. “Even she is 25 years old now and once we return to Mannar, we will find a job so that she can get married and all these vessels which we are taking can help us save some money,” she said.
Organisation for Eelam Refugees’ Rehabilitation (OfERR) – an NGO working for the safe, informed and voluntary return of Sri Lankan refugees to the island-nation, welcomed the move to increase the baggage allowance.
“We welcome the decision to increase the baggage allowance, as it would help returnees to take some more of their personal belongings. If the ferry services are resumed, it would help them take more things,” OfeRR treasurer S.C. Chandrahasan said.
Repatriation should not be a “deprivation” to them, as they can take only limited things with them while returning, he said, calling upon the Indian and Sri Lankan governments to come together to announce a package for the returnees, which would include ferry services, enabling them to take more of their personal belongings.
“Ferry would help them take back their fridges, mixies, motor bikes, which they had bought with their life-time savings. If they are able to take them across, they need to spend money to buy them again once they return and intend to start a new life,” he added.
Over a lakh Sri Lankan refugees are living in camps across the State.