COLOMBO: Sinhala nationalist groups from both sides of the Sri Lankan political divide, have voiced opposition to repatriation of Lankan refugees from Tamil Nadu to Sri Lanka.
Nishantha Sri Warnasinghe, spokesman of the pro-government Jathika Hela Urumaya (JHU), told newspersons here on Friday, that as per an agreement signed in 1987 by the then Indian High Commissioner J.N.Dixit and the then Lankan government, India had agreed to grant Indian citizenship to Sri Lankan Tamils who had fled to India in the aftermath of the 1983 riots. On its part, the Lankan government had agreed to grant Lankan citizenship to Tamils of Indian origin who had been living in the island nation from British times.
“This agreement will be breached if the Lankan Tamil refugees are repatriated to Lanka,” Warnasinghe pointed out.
However, United National Party (UNP) MP, R.Yogarajan, rubbished Sri Warnasinghe’s claim.
In fact, Clause 2.16 (d) of the India-Lanka Accord of 1987 had said quite the opposite. It said: “India will expedite repatriation from Sri Lanka of Indian citizens to India, concurrently with the repatriation of Sri Lankan refugees from Tamil Nadu.” There was no mention of granting Indian citizenship to Lankan refugees.
Yogarajan was surprised that Warnasinghe should oppose repatriation when his own party, the JHU, had, in 2008, initiated legislation to give Lankan citizenship to an estimated 28,500 Lankan refugees living in camps in Tamil Nadu.
“Following the passage of the 2008 bill unanimously, Lankan officials went from camp to camp in Tamil Nadu, registering refugees for grant of Lankan passports,” he pointed out.
Looking at the issue from a different angle, the Bodu Bala Sena (BBS) General Secretary General, Ven.Gnanasara Thera, said that it would be a “national security risk” to bring the refugees from Tamil Nadu.
“Over the years, the refugees in TN have been under the influence of extremist leaders like Jayalalithaa, Karunanidhi and Vaiko,” Gnanasara Thera told the Tamil daily Thinakkural. The BBS is aligned with former President Mahinda Rajapaksa and his powerful Defense Secretary Gotabaya Rajapaksa.