Land and housing are the two major issues that need to be addressed satisfactorily, say refugees who have returned to Sri Lanka’s North from their camps in Tamil Nadu and other parts of India. Only then, the say, can there be a large scale voluntary repatriation of refugees, The Hindu newspaper reported.
Anjana Devi and Indira Gandhi, who returned to Sri Lanka 12 years ago, say those who own land in the North should be given a financial package for constructing new houses or rebuilding their old ones.
They also call for a special programme for the landless. An official in Colombo says the Indian government should come forward to build at least 5,000 houses for refugee-returnees.
Jesuraj, a 23-year-old native of Mannar who returned last year, feels that those who are studying in the 10th standard should complete their university education in India before deciding to come back. He acknowledges that not all the educated returnees can be accommodated in the North and the East. Those wanting to migrate to Colombo may face problem when it comes to communication as Sinhala is the main language there.
Sasigaran, another refugee returnee, says the Sri Lanka government has to formulate a scheme to take care of livelihood issues of persons like him.
Considering these and many other issues, the OfERR (Organisation for Eelam Refugees’ Rehabilitation) has prepared a proposal, covering seven stages such as travel from refugee camps in Tamil Nadu to native villages in the North, subsistence and livelihood. According to the NGO’s calculations, each family will have to be provided with around Rs. 35.5 lakh.
[About one lakh refugees are in Tamil Nadu including 65,000 in 107 camps. There has been no organised repatriation since March 1995, states a document of the Indian government. However refugees have come back on a piecemeal basis in recent years and since 2011, about 4,700 refugees have returned, says a document of the Sri Lankan government.]
Besides, in a submission made to the Public Representation Committee on Constitutional Reforms, S.C. Chandrahasan and S.S ooriyakumary, OfERR’s key office bearers, emphasised that the proposed Constitution should incorporate provisions ensuring the refugees’ inalienable right to return and guaranteeing “a life in safety and dignity”. Harim Peiris, Chairman of the Resettlement Authority in Sri Lanka, wants the Sri Lankan government to have an effective redressal mechanism on land disputes and provide key documents expeditiously.
A policymaker wants the Indian and Sri Lankan governments to form a joint task force at the earliest. Northern Province Chief Minister C.V. Wigneswaran says that apart from the Central governments in the two countries, the Tamil Nadu government and the administration of the Northern Province should be involved. (Colombo Gazette)