Tamil Nadu

Dual citizenship for Tamil refugees unlikely to materialise

A 2015 photo of Sri Lankan refugees at Anaiyur camp after they submitted a plea to the Madurai Collector.

A 2015 photo of Sri Lankan refugees at Anaiyur camp after they submitted a plea to the Madurai Collector.

The ongoing political discourse in Tamil Nadu seeking dual citizenship for Sri Lankan Tamil refugees is unlikely to lead to any major change in the Citizenship Act. The debate on the issue has been revived following the enactment of the Citizenship (Amendment) Act (CAA) and the campaign by the DMK-led opposition that it discriminates against Sri Lankan Tamils apart from Muslims. The ruling AIADMK has already petitioned Home Minister Amit Shah with the demand.

However, according to a senior government official, the authorities, both at the Centre and in the State, prefer voluntary repatriation of the refugees to any other option. Thus, prospects of any more amendment to the law in the near future are bleak.

One of the reasons for this position of the authorities is that the voluntary reverse flow of the refugees will strengthen the cause of Tamils in the neighbouring country who are demanding greater powers. On the other hand, any move to provide Indian citizenship to the refugees could disturb the present equilibrium in which Tamils are living in Sri Lanka.

HC order

If at all there is any change in the position of the Union government, this will come to the fore in respect of applications of 38 refugees of the Kottapattu camp in Tiruchi district for citizenship in the light of an order of the Madurai Bench of the Madras High Court in June last year.

The applications were sent by the Tiruchi Collector to the State government in October which forwarded them to the Union Home Ministry in compliance with the court order.

Actually, 65 refugees of the camp had approached the High Court, seeking direction to the Central government to grant them citizenship on the ground that their ancestors were from Tamil Nadu and they were taken to Sri Lanka during the British era to work in tea estates.

The petitioners claimed that in the aftermath of the 1983 anti-Tamil riots, they had to flee to India along with Sri Lankan Tamil refugees, who hailed from Northern and Eastern provinces, but they should not be clubbed with the other category of refugees. In fact, they should be treated on a par with those who were repatriated to India under the 1964 and 1974 bilateral agreements.

However, the court, acknowledging that “citizenship falls within the exclusive executive domain of the Central government,” refused to issue any positive mandamus to the Centre but asked the Union government to issue “appropriate orders,” within 16 weeks of receiving the applications.

The Central government had also made it clear in the court that citizenship cannot be claimed as a matter of right, even if the petitioners fulfil all the criteria. Besides, only those who entered India after 1983 with valid travel documents can apply for Indian citizenship under Section 5(1)(c) [dealing with the option of citizenship by registration] of the Citizenship Act. All others would be regarded as illegal migrants.

It is the application of the term, “illegal migrants,” that has come in the way of giving citizenship even to stateless persons.

Narrow application

According to certain specialists, the term need not be narrowly applied as invariably all the refugees from Sri Lanka, only on “complete verification of their antecedents,” were shifted to refugee camps in the State, a fact not just known to the Union Ministry but also acknowledged by the Ministry in its annual reports. V. Suryanarayan, a long-standing expert, says the Union government’s standing instruction to the State government on applications from the refugees — as captured in two circulars issued in 1983 and again in 2007 — is the major obstacle to the authorities considering even genuine cases for citizenship.

As far as the Sri Lankan government is concerned, it is also for the voluntary return of refugees, as a matter of policy. Even though it is not outwardly making any effort to take back the refugees, it has been issuing birth certificates to children born to the refugees.

The issue of birth certificates is a pre-requisite to any one applying for Sri Lankan citizenship. Between 1988 and 2019, around 26,430 birth certificates were issued.

Two options

Observers of issues concerning the refugees are of the view that broadly, there are two options. The two countries will have to take concerted steps to provide a push to the process of voluntary repatriation and the steps include organising ferry services between Rameswaram and Talaimannar, a package of assistance for livelihood and educational opportunities for refugee-returnees and their children and re-empowerment of the refugee-returnees with their immovable properties, if any.

Two, in respect of those who see better employment opportunities in India than in Sri Lanka, residence permits can be issued to them so that their stay in India gets regularised.

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Printable version | Jun 11, 2022 8:57:09 am | https://www.thehindu.com/news/national/tamil-nadu/dual-citizenship-for-tamil-refugees-unlikely-to-materialise/article30538529.ece