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“Majority of Sri Lankan Tamil refugees reluctant to go back to their country”

R.K. Radhakrishnan

The government is providing them all facilities available to voters in the State, including subsidised rice and other material, says official


They have taken up jobs as masons or carpenters

Free television sets were given to them


CHENNAI: A majority of the Sri Lankan Tamil refugees, who have been in India for a decade or more, are reluctant to go back to their nation, according to M. Mutia Kalaivanan, Director of Rehabilitation.

Talking to TheHindu here on Wednesday on the sidelines of a national seminar on ‘Refugee situation in India today,' he said that many of the refugees had become part of the local community and some even married locals. They had taken up jobs as masons or carpenters.

The government was providing them all facilities available to voters in the State, including subsidised rice and other material. Even free television sets were given to them (20,039 sets have already been distributed). As many as 52,373 individual identity cards had been issued to refugees aged above 12 years to ensure their welfare and security.

Enrolment of refugees in schools and colleges had gone up compared to the previous year. In 2008-09, the total number of students enrolled in schools and colleges was 21,023. In 2009-10, this rose to 21,742. But the nursery level enrolment dropped from 3452 (2008-09) to 3076 in 2009-10.

A Rs.55-crore housing scheme would be implemented for their benefit. The Rural Development Department would be in charge of the scheme. Land identification process was on. Chief Minister M. Karunanidhi had written to the Centre asking it to consider conferring citizenship on refugees who had lived here for long.

In all, the Rehabilitation department had spent Rs.74.56 crore in 2009-10 on the welfare of Tamil refugees (excluding the Rs.100 crore announced by the Chief Minister for infrastructure development in camps) as against Rs.0.21 crore spent in 1983-84 (before the influx of Sri Lankan Tamils). However, some of the refugees wanted to go back because of the limited job prospects here, he said.

The seminar was organised by the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees and the Centre for Asia Studies.

There are 70,325 persons (20,251 families) staying in camps, besides 32,365 persons (11,933 families) staying as non-camp refugees in the State. There are 112 camps across 25 districts and two special camps. While a special camp at Ramanathapuram (Mandapam) houses 2,837 persons, the one at Tiruchi (Kottapattu) has 1,559 persons.

Of the total Sri Lankan refugees who arrived in India since early eighties, (3.03 lakh from July 24, 1983 to July 21, 2010), about one lakh refugees were sent back in two phases (1987-89 and 1992-95). Another one lakh had left India for Sri Lanka or third countries on their own with valid travel documents.

The refugees who were willing to go back to Sri Lanka or to any other country of their choice at their own cost were issued “exit permits” by Collectors. Up to 2010 May, a total of 7041 persons, who were interviewed by the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees and signed the returnee forms had been sent back voluntarily to Sri Lanka with the assistance of the UNHCR. Of this, 687 persons, belonging to 215 families left India this year.

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