Sri Lankan Refugees in India

Sri Lankan Refugees in India


India has received a large number of refugees from neighbouring countries such as Sri Lanka, Bangladesh, Afghanistan, etc., but it does not have a clear legal structure to govern the entry and status of refugees. Moreover, it is not a signatory to the 1951 Geneva Convention on the Status of Refugees or to its 1967 Protocol. The purpose of this Act is to secure the social and economic rights granted to refugees by international laws and agreements.

Sri Lankan Tamil refugees have migrated to the southern Indian state of Tamil Nadu at different times. Some arrived 30 years ago, others at the height of the Sri Lankan civil war in the mid-2000s. At present, more than 62,000 Tamil refugees live in 107 camps spread throughout Tamil Nadu, and just under 37,000 refugees live outside the camps. While refugees are entitled to residency visas and work permits, a prolonged life in the camps does not contribute to resilience and empowerment, and these refugees find themselves in limbo, belonging neither to Sri Lanka nor to India and unable to survive. Tamil refugees – particularly young people – wish to be disassociated with the ‘refugee’ mark, which they believe will enhance the quality of life for them, their families and their communities.

There are two viable long-term choices for Tamil refugees in India: repatriation or local integration. Resettlement is no longer a choice, as the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR) tends to give priority to other refugee groups with higher security needs. Many refugees would like to remain in India in order to seek and obtain citizenship there; others would like to return to Sri Lanka – but only if conditions changed. In Sri Lanka, tensions and distrust between the two major ethnic groups are rooted in prejudice, and some of these discriminatory practices are still prevalent. Tamil refugees’ express confusion and fear as to their ability to earn a living, access land and find protection if they return to Sri Lanka.

 Sri Lankan refugees in India

Sri Lankan refugees normally land on Dhanush Kodi Island in the Ramanthapuram district of Tamil Nadu when they migrate to India. According to the DRTN, almost 100,793 Sri Lankan refugees stayed in 115 government-run refugee camps because they were not admitted to the camps. As refugees, they had to register at the nearest Foreigners Registration Office (police station). Non-campaign refugees do not receive any assistance from Tamil Nadu or the Government of India. These are supported by remittances from relatives abroad or by other type of work activities. 

There are two special camps with 76 refugees in Chengalpattu Taluk, Kancheepuram district of Tamil Nadu, with strict internal security. Because their movements are limited, they are supplied with food instead of cash dole. The majority of Sri Lankan refugees staying in Tamil Nadu ethnicity has led to strong support for them in the state.

Problems affecting their livelihood- based on field survey

Since they are the country’s refugees, they don’t have proper shelter to live and the government hasn’t offered them any financial support. They used to use the sheets of building as their shelter and that was incredibly hot in the summer. It is very harsh and difficult to live in shelter. It also gives refugee children health problems like skin-related illness, headache, etc.

Being situated in the camps and clinics are faraway from the camps, the refugees have very little access to adequate medical treatment. Because once every two months the government and the NGOs inspect the medical camps, this is not enough to solve the problem. In addition, refugees face discrimination and do not provide sufficient medical assistance in government hospitals even though they are entitled to free medical services. So, they are forced to go to private hospitals, and households spend Rs.800 a month on medical expenditure.

Another big issue facing the refugee camp is abuse. The refugees are abused within their own group by individuals, and even by the Camp Administrative Officer (CAO). Refugees camping in Sri Lanka who have serious health problems can access free medical facilities in government hospitals and seek care under the Kalaignar Insurance Scheme, a free medical insurance program offered by the government. They have asked the camp leader to make use of this facility, the camp leader requests to be paid Rs. 600 to get the certificate issued by the CAO.

Finding employment is difficult in and far away from the camp even if they are educated and qualified.

Livelihood strategies in refugee camps

Livelihood approaches refer to the way households are distributing assets and using their resources to achieve their livelihood goals, and are mostly focused on previous experience. Every refugee population has resided in different environments in the host countries, making use of different survival strategies.

Rehabilitation assistance from State Government

after their arrival in the country of asylum, refugees typically need material resources to meet their basic needs. Hence, they depend primarily on local governments, NGOs, and international agencies to get humanitarian help. Refugees camping in Sri Lanka have access to vital humanitarian aid from the Government of Tamil Nadu. Sri Lankan refugees can also get access from government hospitals for free medical services. Furthermore, they can demand financial assistance from the State Government for major medical care, which is approved on the advice of the district collector from the “Sri Lankan Tamil Special Fund”. Th estate government has implemented an Integrated Child Development Scheme (ICDS) to improve the nutritional level of the Tamil Nadu children, pregnant women and lactating mothers.

The Government of the State also provided refugee children with free educational facilities. They are admitted to the schools where they last studied in Sri Lanka and are permitted to continue their studies at university level. In addition, refugee children are given free uniforms, noon meals, bus passes, textbooks and notebooks.

Camps for refugees now have electricity and 24-hour power supply, although it was just 12 hours before 2006 (from 6am-6pm). Overall, during the period 1983-2009, the Indian Government spent Rs.500 crore on the Sri Lankan refugee relief programme. The entire expenditure was initially met by the Government of Tamil Nadu, and later reimbursed by the Government of India.

Government opinion towards Sri Lankan Refugees towards CAA

Sri Lankan Tamils are excluded from the CAA because the statistic suggests that there may be no immediate need for Sri Lankan Tamils to seek citizenship as they have been resettled in large numbers against non-Muslim minorities from Pakistan , Afghanistan, and Bangladesh, many of whom are reluctant to return to their country due to fear of religious persecution. Between 1964 and 2008 India granted citizenship to more than 4.5 lakh Tamils from Sri Lanka

Article Written By: Satya Satvika

Symbiosis Law School, Hyderabad (Intern, HRDI)