Unwise suggestion


Tamil Nadu Chief Minister M Karunanidhi’s recent demand seeking ‘permanent’ status for Sri Lankan Tamil refugees taking shelter in India is not only unprecedented, but fraught with dangerous consequences. Earlier, successive state governments have articulated the line about repatriation of refugees rather than offer to retain them on Indian soil.

Clearly, the Centre which has reacted cautiously to Karunanidhi’s proposal, will have examine the issue carefully and in a wider perspective. It would have to contend with the likelihood of similar demands from several other refugees resident in the country for much longer periods which include the Chinese, Tibetans, Myanmarese, Bangladeshis, Pakistanis and Afghans. However the only difference is that these refugees of non-Tamil origin have no political godfathers to promote their cause for resident status. Besides, in most countries the refugees are granted citizenship under exceptional circumstances only after they apply for it — rather than a host government taking the initiative to unilaterally grant them resident status.

Around 1,00,000 Sri Lankan Tamil refugees residing in Tamil Nadu now arrived at different periods and could be classified into four categories. These include 71,600 refugees living in government camps and 30,000 others who stay on their own. Some of those in the camps who are security threats live in special camps at Orissa and elsewhere. Lastly, another class of refugees who arrived with valid travel document but extended their stay through renewal of visas. The first phase was from 1983-87 when 1,48,000 refugees came following the Colombo riots that broke out in 1983. Many among them left Tamil Nadu following the India-Sri Lanka accord of 1987.

These refugees arrived here owing to troubled conditions in their homeland earlier which are no longer valid now with the restoration of normalcy and peace on the island nation following the end of civil war. It is natural for refugees anywhere to want to return to their homes. In this case, with just 22 miles separating the two countries across the Palk Strait — many Sri Lankan refugees have from time to time been shuttling back and forth, depending on prevailing conditions — only proves the point. Otherwise, most of these refugees fled their country due to the civil war and to ensure their personal security and not for reasons of discrimination. From India’s own point of view, it would be prudent to repatriate them to Sri Lanka at the earliest so that the social and financial burden on the government could be eased.

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