The ignored plight of Sri Lankan refugees

The ignored plight of Sri Lankan refugees
It was the time of war and unrest. The only driving force for the Sri Lankan Tamils who decided to move out was the hope for a better future for their kids. It was easier to run away from their birth land than to see their children die.

More than 1.34 lakh Sri Lankan Tamils crossed the Palk Straight to India between 1983 and 1987 during the first in flow. In three more phases, many more refugees entered India. The war-torn Sri Lankans sought refuge in southern India with more than 60,000 refugees currently staying in 109 camps in Tamil Nadu alone.
The migration of refugees into the country had also inspired many filmmakers in India, and have led to the making of memorable films like Kanathil Muthamital.


The search for a better future, though, hasn’t been so fruitful for most of the refugees in the state of Tamil Nadu.
At the age of 30, it was not an easy call for Arul* to either leave the land that he had always lived in or think of starting his financial situation from scratch. He had three girl children to take care of. In 1998, Arul taking the only choice left for him and his family between the deep sea and the devil started their journey to India. Even after 18 years, many like Arul haven’t found peace and doubt about their decision to leave their country persists.

“We have become foreigners to the people of our country and we are foreigners to the people of India too. We have been monitored by the police. For example, in Gummidipoondi camp, one boy was thrashed by the police for no reason. Also, in Madurai Uchipatti camp, one boy committed suicide, another person named Mohan was murdered in Pallikaranai police station. There seem to be no enquiry after these incidents. Nowhere in the world will you see so many people living like us,” said a distraught Arul.

“We will just go off from India, it feels like coming to India was one of the biggest mistakes and that is how many officials have made us feel,” rued Maliga*, a refugee in the Gummidipondi camp.

While going around the refugee camps in the state, it was noticed that the camps lacked even the basic facilities in terms of sanitation and security. Thatched houses separated using tarpaulin sheets. The refugees are given 20 kg of ration rice per family, Rs 1000 per month for the head of the family, Rs 750 for adults and Rs 400 for children. The children are given free education till class 12 and also provided with all the state benefits that are given to the Indian students. But is that sufficient?
“Is Rs 1000 enough for your monthly expense? Our life here is much worse than that in the war zone that we fled,” said Maliga.

“There are many refugees in India who have been here for three generations and even the third generation after being educated are still working as daily wage labourer. They don’t have proper documentation and people are not ready to employ us,” said Durai*,another refugee who lives outside the refugee camp.
It is not just a safe environment that the refugees are struggling for, they also fall prey to corporate nexus.

“I have been working in India for the last six years. I have worked in many companies here and have been fooled fot Rs 42 lakhs. They make me work really hard and at the time of giving the payment they talk about how I don’t have Pan card and how I am not eligible to be payed because I am a refugee. Which country says a refugee shouldn’t work or get payed? Even if we try filing a complaint against those fraudulent companies officials don’t really take any case,” said Mahesh*, who even tried committing suicide after being cheated.

Meanwhile, ahead of the State Assembly elections, AIADMK leader and Chief Minister J Jayalalithaa, promised to implement dual citizenship for Sri Lankan refugees.
However, this move has not brought any hope for the refugees, who term it a political gimmick.
“Our situation is similar to that of a dog. That is how the politicians think and treat us. There is absolutely no support. We feel like a herd of cows and goats in a cattle farm. For example, we were assured dual citizenship for the past 4 or 5 elections, but nothing has happened.”

The Opposition in Tamil Nadu is apprehensive about dual citizenship. They are urging the government to provide better facilities. DMK spokesperson Manu Sundaram said, “Jayalalithaa has unilaterally announced that she will seek dual citizenship for Sri Lankan refugees and this is something that only the Central government can make decision on. But what Jayalalithaa must be well adviced to do is ensure that the facilities and arrangement in the refugee camps in are meeting the international standards. The fact that refugees are still trying to flee the country and take a risky route to Australia through middlemen shows that they are unhappy with the camps here.”

Criticising both the Dravidian parties inefficiency, activist Thirumurugan Gandhi said, ” Tamil Nadu politicians, be it Jayalalithaa or Karunanidhi, are not champions of Tamils. They call themselves as people fighting for Tamil cause. But they have not moved their finger a bit against the Indian state’s oppression of the Tamils. They use this thing as if they are a champion of Tamil to garner vote. Moreover, the condition of refugees from other parts of the world is much better than that of Sri Lankan refugee.”
While crossing the high tides of the Indian Ocean and landing in India, despite the sorrow of leaving their birth land their driving force was a better tomorrow, a tomorrow without gun sounds, and bloodshed. But even today most of the refugees in the refugee camps have only one common expression written on their faces – sorrow and regret.