The Sunday Leader

Tamil Nadu Shoots Down Repatriation

  • Sri Lankan Tamil refugees in India

By Camelia Nathaniel

The Tamil Nadu government on Tuesday said that any discussion on the voluntary repatriation of Sri Lankan Tamil refugees to Sri Lanka is premature and repatriation should be deferred in view of the “prevailing atmosphere of fear and intimidation, the presence of the Army in Tamil areas, non-settlement of internally displaced people and absence of any concrete and credible measures taken by the Sri Lankan government.”

In his address to the Assembly, Governor K. Rosaiah said the government is committed to the peaceful, just and honourable resettlement of the refugees. “But it is of the view that voluntary repatriation can be countenanced only after proper rehabilitation of the internally displaced Sri Lankan Tamils,” he said.

He stressed that a congenial atmosphere for the return of the refugees could be achieved only by fully restoring the autonomy and democratic rights of Tamil minorities, besides sufficient economic and political measures.

The idea of repatriating the 100,000-odd refugees had been put forward by the Narendra Modi government in New Delhi. And one meeting of officials has already taken place in New Delhi without the participation of the Tamil Nadu government.

The Sri Lankan government too has rejected Modi’s proposal, though it is ready to discuss it with India and explain its position. Minister for Resettlement D.M. Swaminathan said that repatriation cannot take place without the creation of adequate facilities in North and East Sri Lanka and also before the resettlement of the 26, 000 war displaced persons in the island itself. Colombo would not like to uproot people settled in India for over three decades, said cabinet spokesman Lakshman Kiriella.

However, initially, Colombo agreed to discuss the issue with New Delhi. According to the Sri Lankan Foreign Minister Mangala Samaraweera, an agreement was expected to be reached during the visit of Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi to Sri Lanka in March.

According to the India-based Organization Elangai Refugees Rehabilitation (OfERR) run by S.C. Chandrahasan, there are 65,000 Sri Lankan Tamil refugees living in 110 camps in Tamil Nadu. But according to the Department of Rehabilitation of the Tamil Nadu government, there are 73,241 refugees in 115 camps including the Special Camps for suspected former Tamil militants. Besides these, there are 31,802 persons living outside the camps in rented accommodation or with relations.

The subject of repatriation came up rather unexpectedly when the Sri Lankan Foreign Minister Mangala Samaraweera visited New Delhi recently for talks with Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Minister of External Affairs, Sushma Swaraj.

After meeting Swaraj, Samaraweera told the press that he wanted all Sri Lankans who had left the country to come back to their motherland. On Wednesday, the Sri Lankan cabinet approved the decision to facilitate repatriation and announced that the question will be discussed in detail during the visit of Prime Minister Modi to Sri Lanka sometime in March.


Opposition from pro-LTTE groups

Meanwhile, pro-LTTE Tamil organisations in Tamil Nadu have raised objections to repatriation. The Tamil National movement (TNM) leader P. Nedumaran told the media in Madurai on Wednesday that if India were to send the refugees back, Western countries would follow suit.

Nedumaran charged that the Maithripala Sirisena government is as committed to obliterating evidence of war crimes as the government of Mahinda Rajapaksa, and one way of obliterating the evidence is to show that everything is peaceful and hunky dory in the Northern and Eastern Provinces. “The return of the refugees from India will help Sri Lanka to show that peace and normalcy have returned to the war-devastated area. But conditions are not normal. Many Tamils are still living in camps. The refugees should not be sent back until there is normalcy and the North and East are reunited,” Nedumaran said.  He announced a conference on this issue to be held at the Theppakkulam grounds in Madurai on January 25.  Joining Nedumaran in condemning the move, the Tamizhar Vazhvurumai Katchi (TVK) demanded that no refugees should be forced to go back.

But neither India nor Sri Lanka is thinking of forcible repatriation. They are interested in creating appropriate conditions for their return. The details are yet to be worked out.


OfERR’s Scheme

However, there is already a model scheme put forward by the Organisation for Elangai Refugees Rehabilitation (OfERR) headed by S.C. Chandrahasan (son of Federal Party’s founder-leader the late SJV. Chelvanayakam).

Chandrahasan has been working towards the return of the refugees to their homeland by creating among them an awareness of the need to return; and taking up the issue with the Governments of India, Tamil Nadu and Sri Lanka. He has been at this ever since the end of Eelam War IV in 2009.

On September 23, 2014, Chandrahasan wrote to the then Sri Lankan President Mahinda Rajapaksa telling him that the refugees who have lived in India for a larger part of their lives, are seeking his “much required support to return to their motherland,” now that peace has dawned after a 30-year armed conflict. He attached a document entitled: “Asserting the Right to Seek Durable Solutions: The Voice of the Sri Lankan Refugees in the Camps in India”.


India-Sri Lanka MoU Mooted

Earlier, in 2012, at a meeting with the then External Affairs Minister G.L. Peiris, Chandrahasan proposed a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) between Sri Lanka and India to facilitate and expedite the return of the refugees.

Towards that his organisation OfERR conducted 17 consultations with refugees in 25 districts of Tamil Nadu over a period of nine months, and came out with a document containing 48 proposals which will facilitate and expedite return. It is these proposals which were sent to President Rajapaksa in September this year.

In the preamble of the document, it was said that during the consultations with the refugees, it soon became clear that returning to Sri Lanka was one of the three options, namely 1) staying on India, 2) returning to Sri Lanka and 3) migrating to a third country, typically, a Western country.

However, as far as returning to Sri Lanka was concerned, the refugees expressed “a range of concerns”, though they recognised that the only “durable solution to end their refugee status will be to rebuild their lives by rebuilding their homeland.”


Return sluggish

Although since 1987, four attempts were made by the Government of India to repatriate the Sri Lankan Tamil refugees, progress has been fitful. During Phase I and Phase II (1987-89 and 1992-95) more than 100,000 returned with the help of the Indian and Sri Lankan governments and the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), and an additional 100,000 left on their own for various countries including Sri Lanka. After the end OF Eelam War IV in May 2009, 6354 returned to Sri Lanka with the assistance of the UNHCR. But since then, progress has been slow, to the extent that by 2012, only a little over 8,000 had returned.

Chandrahasan attributes the sluggish return process to some serious “concerns” expressed by the refugees. A number of issues have to be addressed and guarantees given by both Sri Lanka and India, he said. “These could be incorporated in an MoU between Lanka and India,” he suggested.

He prepared a document giving 48 requirements “for a well-planned and structured return programme” and presented it to the Sri Lankan, Indian and Tamil Nadu governments. Responses are awaited.


4 Comments for “Tamil Nadu Shoots Down Repatriation”

  1. We welcome the refuges as they are our own people but can not agree on Nedumarans request to re-unite north and east.This is sri lanka an indipendant country. TNA also should understand not to hinder these people’s lifes as they can not go on like this for ever.

  2. madmani

    If Tamilnadu is considered to be their motherland, why do these people want to go elsewhere? Isn’t Tamilnadu a good enough place to live?

  3. TropicalStorm

    Let them all stay where they are, nice and warm. That would continue to enrich the western and Indian gene pool.

  4. aranayaka podde

    Of course, pro LTTE elements and the Tamil nadu politicians like vaiko doesn’t want the refugees to return. They are bankrupt politically.
    They can only talk about refugees and the Tamil citizens in Sri Lanka who are better off than Tamil people living in Tamil Nadu. If the refugees leave they have nothing to talk about to stay in the lime light.

    Sri Lanka government should do everything possible to bring them back and reestablish them in their home country.

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