Sri Lankan Tamil refugees have lived in the camps of Tamil Nadu since 1983. Depending on the situation in Sri Lanka they have moved back and forth. Since 1991 refugees have lived in the camps of Tamil Nadu with the assistance of the Government of India (GoI) and the Government of Tamil Nadu (GoTN). Over the years with the patronage of GoTN, they have been able to survive the hardships of refugee life. During their stay in India, they have been able to access the benefits of health and education. As a result of this, currently there are 3,812 graduates, diploma holders and skilled personnel. With the war in Sri Lanka coming to an end in 2009, refugees have been contemplating on durable solutions. Over 8,000 refugees have returned to their motherland and have been able to restart their lives, whereas the vast majority of the refugees still remain in camps thinking about their future.
In this context, OfERR (Ceylon) in coordination with OfERR in India has been advocating with the governments of Sri Lanka and India to better the living conditions of the Sri Lankan Tamil refugees in India and the returnees and IDPs in Sri Lanka. OfERR (Ceylon), since the end of the war in 2009, has been engaged with all stakeholders to facilitate and encourage the return of refugees from India. The advocacy has been done through formal and informal meetings, submission of letters and presentations in order to strengthen the ‘Preparedness of Return’ in India and ‘Strengthening the Sustainability of refugee return’ in Sri Lanka. This also aims at creating an enabling environment for the returnees to come and restart their lives successfully in their own land.
We believe, a consensus has emerged among the governments on two points, i.e., (1) return should be voluntary based on well informed decision made by the concerned refugees, and (2) substantial resource commitment from Government of India guaranteeing economic resettlement in Sri Lanka.
It is also our plea that the discussion amongst the governments – India, Sri Lanka and Tamil Nadu – should progress and eventually sign a MoU that shall facilitate provision of a package, implementation mechanism, constituting a fund and administrative framework for ending refugee status of Sri Lankan Tamil Refugees in India. This is primarily to improve living prospects while they are in India and prepare the ground for resettlement in Sri Lanka.
We are confident that the Sri Lankan government would encourage those who had left Sri Lanka to return to their homeland. The invitation to Sri Lankans living overseas including refugees living in the camps in Tamil Nadu would certainly be heeded by the Sri Lankan refugees in India who have been preparing themselves over the years to return to their homeland.