Thousands of Sri Lankans left the country and settled down in various parts of the world over the 30 years that the war lasted in the country. Many of them wouldn’t have visited Sri Lanka in decades, for obvious reasons.
While many have settled in the Western countries, there are others who fled to the nearby Tamil Nadu to save their lives and have been living in camps
One of the important aspects of post-war reconciliation programmes has been to call back refugees who are currently residing in Tamil Nadu.
Many have come back. But the story does not end there. There are many who go back to Tamil Nadu because of the lack of basic facilities.
The Voluntary Organisation for Vulnerable Community Development (VOVCOD) is a non-governmental organisation based in the North which assists the families that have been resettled. It also deals with returnees from Tamil Nadu.
Officials attached to the organization stated that at least 40% of the returnees go back to Tamil Nadu as the facilities given here did not match to what was given in Tamil Nadu.
According to the officials, the Tamil Nadu State Government needed to provide special relief measures to the families returning from Tamil Nadu.
“The refugees in Tamil Nadu are being given special treatment. They are given education, special quotas to enter universities. Their living conditions are good compared to Sri Lanka. Therefore, they prefer to go back to Tamil Nadu rather than stay here,” an official attached to the VOVCOD said.
In addition, they have to pay approximately Rs. 25,000 to get citizenship for them and for their children, the official added.
The official urged that the Government draw special plans to accommodate Tamil Nadu refugees. “It is important that the government provides the facilities that would match up to those provided in Tamil Nadu.”
The Ministry of Prison Reforms, Rehabilitation, Resettlement and Hindu Religious Affairs too admitted there were gaps to be filled in providing facilities to the returnees.
Secretary to the Ministry, V. Sivagnanasothy said that the Ministry is doing their utmost to ensure the reintegration of the refugees returning to Sri Lanka from Tamil Nadu.
While noting that there might be gaps in the process of providing relief to the returning refugees since the process is new, the Secretary said that the Ministry has already implemented the necessary relief measures that received Cabinet approval a few weeks ago.
According to the Ministry, there are about 109 welfare camps in Tamil Nadu that house the refugees from Sri Lanka. “While the ministry is taking steps in Sri Lanka to ensure the reintegration of the returning families, the UNHRC is also providing assistance for the refugees,” he said.
Government offers assistance to TN refugees
A free Air ticket along with 75 US dollars per person is provided by the UNHRC. Also the UNHRC gives 19 dollars for transport and a non-monetary food allowance of 75 US dollars per family when they leave Tamil Nadu.
In Sri Lanka, the Ministry is carrying out a programme to provide each family with dry rations necessary for six months. The families will receive this benefit upon returning to Sri Lanka.
In addition, he stated that Minister D.M Swaminathan has obtained cabinet approval for the allocations to provide livelihood assistance and housing facilities for the refugees. The ministry has already made arrangements through a newly-approved Cabinet Paper to implement a programme where each returning family would get livelihood assistance worth up to Rs. 100,000. The livelihood assistance is granted for any type of self-employment or any industry that they will engage in upon returning to Sri Lanka. These families have also been included in the housing programme. Accordingly, they can also apply for the housing programme to receive housing facilities. In addition under the Rehabilitation of Persons, Properties and Industries Authority (REPPIA), if the individuals who return to Sri Lanka have suffered any damage with regard to their house, land or have lost their kith and kin, they can apply for damages by handing over a compensation form to the officers of the REPPIA. The secretary requested from all the people who have returned to their homeland to liaise with the district secretaries and divisional secretaries to obtain their compensation forms in order to receive the reliefs provided by the ministry.