35 years on, Lankan Tamil refugees’ fight for Indian citizenship continues

About 59,000 Sri Lankan Tamils reside in the refugee camps in Tamil Nadu. Most of them, who have been staying in India for over 35 years, has been demanding Indian citizenship.

Published: 21st June 2023 08:14 AM  |   Last Updated: 21st June 2023 08:14 AM   |  A+A-

sri lankan refugees tamil refugees

(Express Illustration: Soumyadip Sinha)

Express News Service

TIRUCHY:   Even as "Hope Away from Home" is this year's World Refugee Day (June 20) theme, India is yet to be a signatory of the 1951 UN Refugee Convention that prohibits any country from pushing back refugees to the countries from where they hail. TNIE spoke to some inmates of the special camps for refugees in Tiruchy central prison campus.

About 59,000 Sri Lankan Tamils reside in the refugee camps in Tamil Nadu. Most of them, who have been staying in India for over 35 years, have been demanding Indian citizenship. One such SL Tamil refugee residing in the Tiruchy special camp said he arrived in India in 1983 along with a few of his associates. Since 2000, it has been a struggle for him to procure a passport.

"We no more want to go back to Sri Lanka as our livelihood is lost there; here we can at least lead a modest life," said the refugee. Though the refugees are content with the assistance provided by the state government, including free education, health care, rations and a monthly allowance, they hope to lead a normal life out of the camps.

K Nalini (37), who was born in India to Sri Lankan Tamil parents at the refugee camp here, narrated the hardships she faced to secure an Indian citizenship. Nalini said, "I only secured passport and voter ID in my family. Many of the youngsters are not even aware of the war that happened. Yet, they have been labelled illegal immigrants."

Another woman refugee pointed out the growing disinterest among youngster to pursue education as they are apprehensive of securing a decent job. Romeo Roy, a law practitioner at the Madurai bench of Madras High Court, who played a vital role in securing citizenship for two Sri Lankan Tamil refugees, said, "We have been demanding to conduct a survey to determine the number of SL Tamil refugees so that it would aid them in securing them citizenship."

Since India does not have a law pertaining to refugees, decisions were taken only with regard to the Foreigners Act, the Passport Act and the Citizenship Act, Roy said, adding that the exclusion of SL Tamils in the Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA), 2019, was "a major blunder."

According to the United Nations (UN), about 35.3 million people crossed international borders seeking asylum last year. India houses refugees from neighbouring countries such as Myanmar, Bangladesh and Sri Lanka. At the end of 2022, 108.4 million people were displaced, United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees said in its flagship annual report, “global trends in forced displacement."

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