Sri Lanka

To address their concerns

Print edition : November 13, 2015

S.C. Chandrahasan, founder of OfERR. Photo: Meera Srinivasan

IN 2014, the Organisation for Eelam Refugees Rehabilitation (OfERR), a Chennai-based non-governmental organisation, brought together a cross section of the Tamil refugees in the various camps in Tamil Nadu for a collective representation of their fears, concerns, experiences, aspirations and hopes. It held 17 rounds of discussions spread over nine months. The consultation process helped the refugees to analyse a range of options before them—remaining in Tamil Nadu, emigrating to a third country, or returning to Sri Lanka.

S.C. Chandrahasan, chairman of OfERR, said: “During the consultations, it became clear that the refugees recognised their right to return home as one of the solutions but had a range of concerns. They resolved that the only durable solution to end their refugee status was to rebuild their homeland and that it would extend itself to rebuilding their lives.” The organisation says there are 3,812 graduates, diploma-holders and skilled persons among the refugees.

The concerns raised included issues such as protection; resettlement and return; general amnesty and compensation; absence of necessary documents; and education, health and livelihood. The main question that came up was whether India would stand guarantee for the well-being of the refugees if they relocated to Sri Lanka. A note prepared after the consultation process stressed that the first step was for the governments of India and Sri Lanka to take into account the various concerns of the refugees and draft a memorandum of understanding (MOU) on their return. The MoU, it said, should ensure the return of the refugees voluntarily in a safe, dignified and sustainable manner and spell out the details of the protection and humanitarian assistance promised to the returnees. The note said the United Nations High Commission for Refugees should “form a committee to specifically supervise the return and resettlement of Sri Lankan refugees from India” and that this committee should continue until the repatriation and reintegration process was completed.

The consultation process took into account the upcountry-Tamils of Indian origin, who were displaced from the central highlands, tea plantations and hill country. These Tamils migrated to northern Sri Lanka and subsequently to India. The note said priority should be given to the Indian-origin Tamils for return and resettlement in areas of their choice. It also wanted the refugees wishing to return to Sri Lanka to be granted Overseas Citizen of India (OCI) status, so that they could come back to India for medical, academic and other needs, and multiple entry visas. The note also wanted the two governments to agree to offer the children of Indo-Sri Lankan couples citizenship of their choice.

In a letter addressed to Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Sri Lankan President Maithiripala Sirisena, Chandrahasan requested the governments of India, Sri Lanka and Tamil Nadu to sign an MoU on the implementation mechanism, the constitution of a fund and an administrative framework for ending the refugee status of the Sri Lankan Tamils in India. “The refugees should be given the option to choose from three possible durable solutions —voluntary repatriation, that is, return to Sri Lanka in safety and dignity and reintegration with an assurance of securing a livelihood; local integration, that is, local settlement and integration in India with an appropriate agreement to allow the refugees to enjoy all the basic rights available to Indian citizens; or third-country resettlement in cases where there is no guarantee of safety and security in Sri Lanka or India,” he said.

According to OfERR, more than 8,000 refugees have returned to Sri Lankan and have been able to restart their lives.

R.K. Radhakrishnan

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