With one more batch of Sri Lankan Tamil refugees returning from Tamil Nadu to their motherland in a few days, the Sri Lankan Government is keen on getting assistance of the Indian Government to enable quicker voluntary repatriation of the remaining refugees, The Hindu newspaper reported.
“We would like the Indian government to help us with regard to housing and road development in places of resettlement,” V.Sivagnanasothy, Secretary to the Ministry of Prison Reforms, Rehabilitation, Resettlement and Hindu Religious Affairs said.
On Tuesday, 41 refugees including 26 women, will reach Colombo from Chennai and Madurai. A senior official in Chennai says: “Of late, on an average, 60 persons are returning to Sri Lanka every month compared to 30 or 40 persons in the past.”
To facilitate the repatriation, the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees provides free air tickets; reintegration allowance of US$ 75 per person; transport allowance US$ 19 per person and monitory non-food grant of US$ 75 per family. The baggage allowance has been increased from 40 kg to 60 kg per person.
A former official of the Rehabilitation Department in the Tamil Nadu government says that if ferry services are resumed early between Talaimannar in the Northern Province and Rameswaram in Tamil Nadu, the number of refugees going back will be much more. Except for a few statements made in the last one year on the resumption of ferry services, there appears to be no tangible progress.
Pointing out that about 1.37 lakh houses are required to be built in the Northern and Eastern Provinces of Sri Lanka, Mr. Sivagnanasothy says the Ministry has prepared a “comprehensive project” for providing livelihood assistance to those refugees who return home. Under the project, the food component envisages the provision of food for six months. In this regard, the World Food Programme has been approached. “In case our project does not get covered under the Food Programme, we will provide dry ration for three months from our budgetary allocation,” the official says.
Of 46,000 houses to be built with the Indian government’s assistance in the two provinces, 43,800 houses were completed as on December 31, 2015 including 15,878 houses in 2015. The remaining 2,200 houses are expected to be covered in “the next few months,” says the Indian High Commission in Colombo.
Mr. Sivagnanasothy said that his Ministry will award contracts shortly for a project of building 65,000 houses in the two provinces. While 11,000 houses will be built in the first year, the next three years will see the construction of 18,000 houses each year.
As for the number of Sri Lankan Tamil refugees living in Tamil Nadu, there appears to be lack of clarity. While the Tamil Nadu government and the Sri Lankan authorities say there are over 1,00,000 refugees are living in the State including non-camp refugees, the annual report of the Union Ministry of Home Affairs for 2014-2015 states that as on December 31, 2014, there were about 65,000 refugees living in 110 camps including one in Odisha and 15,000 refugees living outside the camps. (Colombo Gazette)