A day after the Indian Coast Guard rescued the 120 stranded Sri Lankan Tamil refugees from a mechanised boat abandoned in mid-sea, the rescued refugees said they willfully risked their lives and money to avail a citizenship from a foreign country, wishing to lead a better, dignified life.
“I pledged my jewels and risked my life to get my yet-to-be-born children a citizenship and a new life. Now, all that we have is just our life and not even a citizenship. We don’t want to be called refugees in Tamil Nadu,” lamented a three month pregnant refugee to Express.
Another 36-year-old male member said, “My father lived as a refugee, and I have been always called a refugee, but I do not want my son to be called a refugee. We gambled our lives to lead a life of respect. We were well aware of such hardships in the voyage.” As many as 21 women including two pregnant women and 14 kids of less than five years of age, and six children of less than 12 years of age, were also rescued from the stranded boat.
“People who had earlier fled to Australia told us that they have been given citizenship in just six months, but we have been here for two decades, and still neither we nor our kids have got citizenship. So I left my son at the camp in Tenkasi and risked my life, money for my family,” the refugee added.
Despite completing a certification course in nursing, a 24-year-old female refugee said she had to take up a job with a minimal salary. She left her job citing poor salary and undertook the voyage with the hope of getting her family a better status.
Refugees by and large, expressed their dissatisfaction about the kind of opportunities they were being given here. Most of them work as daily wage labourers and were forced to abandon business ventures, as they do not have valid certificates to initiate any business.
“If we are given citizenship and fair opportunities like the other citizens, why should we be leaving the country. We need the government to understand our plight and help us to lead a respectful life,” added another refugee. The refugees were asked to shell out a sum of `1 lakh to `2 lakh per head, by an unidentified agent, who promised them safe deportation to Australia. Lured by relatives and friends who were once in refugee camps, but successfully reached foreign shores, these people also followed suit. “My brother works at Queensland state in Australia. He found asylum at Australia during the 2006 civil war. He has been given a citizenship along with a training in English language. Now, he uses a skype and the internet. Earlier, he did not even know how to use mobile phone.
Police sources said the lack of information for refugees at the camps is being misused by fake travel agents to cheat them for their money.