The inter-ministerial talks on resolving the woes of the Tamil refugees in India have resumed. This follows the recent meeting external affairs minister Sushma Swaraj had with her Sri Lankan counterpart Mangala Samaraweera in Delhi. The refugee problem is a hangover of the ethnic crisis the island nation had experienced. At one time, there were over three lakh Sri Lankan Tamils in India seeking refugee status. Nearly two-thirds have returned to Sri Lanka or other places. Of the remaining, about 60,000 are in refugee camps enjoying whatever little facilities they are entitled to under UN rules. It is only natural that they want to return to their homeland.
However, they want certain minimum conditions to be fulfilled before they can return. They should, first and foremost, feel that they are wanted there. Their children should have adequate educational facilities and access to jobs in both public and private sectors. It may be recalled that the Tamils were the first to take advantage of modern education in Sri Lanka. One of their immediate concerns is the presence of the Army in their areas. Unfortunately, they see the soldiers more as occupiers than as defenders of the nation. For, they still remember the human rights violations they were subjected to that forced them to leave their motherland. Surely, the new government of Maithripala Sirisena understands the Tamil psyche better.
It will go a long way in winning the confidence of ethnic minorities if the Sirisena government is able to honour its promise of delegating powers to the Tamils in their own areas. The constitution was amended for the purpose but the ground situation hasn’t changed so far. India must use whatever clout it has to ensure that the Tamil refugees return to Sri Lanka in a happier state. Given the goodwill India has for the new government, it shouldn’t be difficult for the two to facilitate the return of the refugees before prime minister Narendra Modi visits Sri Lanka some time next month. It will provide a perfect setting for the visit.