Economic crisis | 19 more Sri Lankans reach Dhanushkodi in Tamil Nadu

They say they starved for three to four days because of high prices of essentials

Updated - April 10, 2022 11:26 pm IST

Published - April 10, 2022 08:51 pm IST - RAMESWARAM/COLOMBO

Ten Sri Lankan Tamils, including children, landed at an islet near Arichalmunai near Danushkodi on April 10, 2022. This is the third batch of Tamils arriving in Tamil Nadu seeking refugee status citing the economic crisis in Sri Lanka.

Ten Sri Lankan Tamils, including children, landed at an islet near Arichalmunai near Danushkodi on April 10, 2022. This is the third batch of Tamils arriving in Tamil Nadu seeking refugee status citing the economic crisis in Sri Lanka. | Photo Credit: L. Balachandar

Fleeing the economic crisis-ridden Sri Lanka, a fresh batch of five families, comprising 19 members including six children, reached Dhanuskodi illegally in two vessels in the early hours of Sunday. This is the largest group of Sri Lankan nationals to have fled to India since the outbreak of the economic crisis.

The men and women said they had been starving for the last three to four days because of the high prices of essentials. “The dwelling in which we stayed at Trincomalee was given by the government after the 2004 tsunami. After taking money from some lenders, we paid for the boat and reached here,” said Srikaran, a Sri Lankan Tamil.

The tired looking men said they paid nearly ₹2 lakh for all the 19 persons to take the boat ride from Sri Lanka. “Now, we have nothing with us. We plan to stay for some time and work in and around here for livelihood. We can go back only when the situation improves, and we are looking for assistance from the Tamil Nadu government,” said Diloxon, 26, of Uppuveli, Trincomalee.

Some others said they had their relatives staying at the rehabilitation camps in Tamil Nadu since 2006.

A woman, Kasturi, 22, said the children did not have food for the last four days. The essentials were either very expensive or were not available. “We lost our jobs. The situation in Sri Lanka appeared tense daily. People in the neighbourhood suggested moving away as quickly as possible, fearing it might worsen in the days to come. We had a very short time to decide. We felt at least we can get a shelter and food in Tamil Nadu and there are some relatives in the rehabilitation camps in Tiruvannamalai, Krishnagiri and Salem districts,” she said.

Based on the statements of the Sri Lankan nationals, Marine Police officers said the families had boarded two vessels at 9 p.m. on Saturday and reached Arichalmunai, near Dhanushkodi, around 10.30 p.m. From there, they trekked and reached the shores past midnight. While some of them claimed they had valid passports, the children had identity cards issued by the local body in Sri Lanka with the birth certificates obtained from the authorities there.

Already, 20 persons from Sri Lanka arrived in Tamil Nadu over the last 15 to 20 days after the economic crisis snowballed in the island nation. Initially, the Tamil Nadu police registered cases against them for violations under the Indian Passports Act and other laws and sent them to the Central Prison, Puzhal. However, considering their plight, the State government put them up at the rehabilitation camp in Mandapam after obtaining bail, officials said.

Meanwhile, Chief Minister M.K. Stalin’s offer of essential supplies to the Tamils has evoked a mixed response in Sri Lanka. Some Tamil politicians and citizens have urged him to consider “helping all”.

Tamil Progressive Alliance leader and Opposition lawmaker Mano Ganesan, who represents the Malaiyaha Tamil community which found a mention in Mr. Stalin’s statement, said in a tweet on Sunday, “Thank you Honorable CM @mkstalin for considering assistance to all Tamil Srilankans. Hence, we request, in recognition of the current struggle of our whole nation, your helping hand of social justice be extended to all Srilankans irrespective of ethnic divides @CMOTamilNadu.”

Tamil National Alliance spokesman and Jaffna MP M.A. Sumanthiran said, “We welcome and truly appreciate the support offered by the Chief Minister. But limiting it to Tamils during such a crisis may cause divisions within people,” according to local media reports. “Especially since people of all ethnicities and religions are taking to the streets and protesting against this government’s mishandling of this crisis right now. We request him to send help for all of us,” a report in the Tamil daily Virakesari quoted him as saying.

Some protesters who gathered at Colombo’s sea-facing Galle Face, near the Presidential Secretariat, to participate in the ongoing agitations against the Rajapaksa government voiced concern over Tamil Nadu’s “selective” approach to helping Sri Lankans. “We are all here today from all ethnic and religious backgrounds to protest against our government, because we are suffering without basic essential items. If Mr. Stalin would like to help, he should extend it to all Sri Lankans, otherwise it would be a betrayal,” said a Tamil-speaking software engineer who was part of the protest.

There is no official word from the offices of Prime Minister Narendra Modi or External Affairs Minister S. Jaishankar on if and how Tamil Nadu could send support. Even if the Centre were to clear Tamil Nadu’s assistance to Sri Lanka, it would likely go to the Central government in Sri Lanka, as the Provincial Councils are not functional, after their terms expired about two years ago. This would mean that even the support meant for the Tamils would have to be routed through the Colombo administration, where India, or Tamil Nadu, may not have a say in how it is used.

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