“You can’t transplant them just like that,” says S.C. Chandrahasan, founder of Organisation for Eelam Refugees Rehabilitation (OfERR ), speaking of refugees in India who might want to soon return to Sri Lanka.
Son of Sri Lanka’s Federal Party leader S.J.V. Chelvanayakam, he was here recently to vote in the first ever Northern Provincial Council elections.
OfERR estimates that about 6,000 people have returned after the war, while as many as 68,000 refugees live in camps in Tamil Nadu. Additionally, about 34,000 live outside camps, after they found jobs locally. Based on his work with Sri Lankan refugees in Tamil Nadu spanning over three decades, Mr. Chandrahasan says four years after the war, people are getting ready to come back home, but a developing a structured programme for returnees rather than a spontaneous one is important.
“There are success stories of people who have returned and lead a good life, we get them to interact with the refugees back in India through Skype,” says Mr. Chandrahasan, but there are also instances of people who went back to India because the support available here was short-lived.
He suggests that the two governments consider an arrangement similar to the OCI (Overseas citizen of India), which would allow unrestricted movement of refugees for a limited time period, he says: “that would help children complete their education in Tamil Nadu”. “The Sri Lankan government is also about to complete restoration of its railway network — that would be a big boon for those returning home,” he says, visualising a time when refugees could take the ferry service from Rameswaram to Talaimannar, and then hop on to the railway grid.