Tamil refugees are neither here nor there

30,000 Sri Lankan Tamil refugees who worked in plantations reside in India

September 13, 2015 12:00 am | Updated 05:45 am IST - CHENNAI:

TIRUCHI, TAMIL NADU: 12/09/2015:  A view of Sri Lankan refugees  Kottapattu camp, in Tiruchi on Saturday.   M. Srinath.

TIRUCHI, TAMIL NADU: 12/09/2015: A view of Sri Lankan refugees Kottapattu camp, in Tiruchi on Saturday. M. Srinath.

At a time when efforts are on to send Sri Lankan Tamil refugees to their country, opinion is divided on whether hill country Tamils of Indian origin (in plantations) should be persuaded to go back or conferred with Indian citizenship.

Of the one lakh Sri Lankan Tamil refugees now residing in India, almost 30,000 of them are Tamils who worked in plantations.

“These refugees sold all their possessions and came to India. They have got integrated with the Tamil society through marriages and their children have no knowledge of realties in Sri Lanka,” said Sri Lankan expert V. Suryanarayan.

Prof. Suryanarayan, who had interacted with these migrants, is of the view that India should adopt a sympathetic attitude towards them.

“When India has granted citizenship to Sikhs from Afghanistan and Hindus from Pakistan and Bangladesh what prevents it from extending the same policy to these Tamils,” he said. To drive home the point that these Tamils from the plantations were eager to get Indian citizenship, Prof. Suryanarayan said, compared to their status in Sri Lanka, Tamil Nadu had provided them with opportunities to come up in life through education.

“In Tamil Nadu, they have achieved some sort of upward mobility. The educated among them naturally do not want to go to tea-plucking,” he said.

S.C. Chandrahasan, founder of the Organisation for the Eelam Refugees Rehabilitation (OfERR), however, disagreed.

“Those who have witnessed the plight of plantation workers who had been granted citizenship and settled in Tamil Nadu would not advocate the stay of other refugees. They are exploited a lot,” he said. Mr. Chandrahasan said he agreed with the argument that it would be difficult for the Tamils to survive without land in Sri Lanka.

“That is why we are recommending to the Sri Lankan government to allot a piece of land for housing and three acres for agriculture. If the proposal is accepted by the Sri Lankan government all refugees will leave India,” said Mr. Chandrahasan, pointing out that 25 per cent of those who had already returned to Sri Lanka were plantation Tamils.

Sabapathi Pillai Natesalingam, who once worked with OfERR, said 90 per cent of the plantation Tamils were not interested in returning to Sri Lanka. “We need to conduct an opinion poll among all refugees on the question of returning before taking any decision. If India sends them without making proper arrangements, they will suffer and it will also lead to other countries sending away Tamils settled there,” said Mr. Natesalingam.

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