Madras court paves way for return of Sri Lankan refugee

The Madras High Court Bench has paved way for the return of a Sri Lankan refugee who was convicted and sentenced to four-and-a-half months of imprisonment by a Judicial Magistrate court in Rameswaram in Ramanathapuram district for attempting to travel back to his island nation in January last without a passport and other travel documents.

Disposing of a habeas corpus petition (HCP), Justices T.S. Sivagnanam and P. Velmurugan directed the refugee, A. Natarajan (51), who had undergone the entire period of sentence and now lodged in a special camp for refugees in Mandapam, to make a representation to the competent authority seeking permission to return to his country.

The representation should be made through Ramanathapuram Superintendent of Police within two weeks from the date of receipt of court order and on receipt of the representation, the competent authority should obtain reports from necessary agencies and pass appropriate orders on the petitioner’s plea within four weeks thereafter, the judges ordered. The Division Bench also said that the authorities concerned should also consider a request made by the petitioner’s counsel, A. Rajini, to exempt her client from being penalised for overstaying in the country since he had been made to stay in the refugee camp only through compulsion by the ‘Q’ branch Criminal Investigation Department.

T. Udhayakala, a co-inmate at the Mandapam refugee camp, had filed the HCP seeking a direction to the police to set Mr. Natarajan at liberty. Replying to her plea, Additional Public Prosecutor (APP) C. Mayilvahana Rajendran said the refugee could be allowed to go back to his country subject to certain conditions.

According to the APP, a clearance from ‘Q’ branch police was essential apart from production of a oneway flight ticket to Sri Lanka and payment of overstay fee. The competent authority would consider the request if there were no adverse remarks against the refugee and all modalities had been complied with, he added.