The proposed relaxation of travel rules for Tibetan refugees to visit foreign countries has triggered a debate whether such a move can be extended for Sri Lankan Tamil refugees living in Tamil Nadu, The Hindu newspaper reported.
There are about one lakh refugees in the State, of whom about two-thirds are in camps being run by the authorities. In an incremental way, the refugees are returning home under a voluntary repatriation scheme being administered through the Union and State governments along with the office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR). Between 2010 and June 30 this year, 8,070 refugees went back to Sri Lanka.
However, given the kind of educational facilities that have been made available to them in India, there is a growing aspiration among the refugees to go to foreign countries for livelihoold opportunities. According to a study made by the Organisation for Eelam Refugees Rehabilitation, Chennai, 2,340 refugees have become graduates in the last 25 years; 185 have become post-graduates and two have completed Ph.D. degrees. One hundred and fifty two students have finished B.E. and 28, B. Tech.
“Even though we get sympathy from the local society, private companies here are reluctant to employ qualified persons from our community. This is why many of our boys are keen on going out,” Pathinathan, a Tamil writer and a non-camp refugee, says, adding that the case of the refugees has to be treated on a “humanitarian basis.”
V. Suryanarayan, veteran academician, says that perhaps the Sri Lankan Tamil refugees are the only community among refugees all over the world to have made maximum use of education facilities in their host country. Experts and senior officials of the State government say that what has been proposed for the Tibetan refugees will not be relevant in respect of the Sri Lankan Tamil refugees.
Pointing out that the Central government has waived the visa fee and the overstay penalty for the refugees going back home on their own, the officials say that they can only facilitate voluntary repatriation of the refugees from Chennai to Colombo. Those who are keen on working in foreign countries would have to start from Sri Lanka, the officials say, adding that there is no progress with regard to the proposal for resumption of ferry services from Rameswaram to Talaimannar, a move which may expedite the return of the refugees to Sri Lanka. (Colombo Gazette)