The contentious Citizenship (Amendment) Act , 2019, has again triggered an ill-advised demand for dual citizenship to Tamil refugees from Sri Lanka . This refuses to leave public discourse despite the constitutional and legal position being clearly against the grant of dual citizenship per se . As on date, no Indian citizen holds the citizenship of any other country. Even when the Centre amended the Citizenship Act in 2003 to introduce the Overseas Citizens of India (OCI) scheme for sections of the Indian diaspora, all it provided was a limited version of ‘dual citizenship’ which came without political rights and with a bar on purchase of agricultural land. It would defy logic, then, to seek dual citizenship for those who are not Indian nationals. The Centre has consistently favoured voluntary repatriation of refugees to Sri Lanka. Given the possible effect on the demographic mix there, New Delhi, quite rightly, is not in a mood to confer Indian citizenship on them. Although the Central and State governments do a lot to make the refugees’ stay comfortable, most of them are regarded as illegal migrants, as they arrived with no valid travel documents. In the run-up to the 2016 Assembly elections, the then Tamil Nadu Chief Minister, Jayalalithaa, flagged the issue of dual citizenship. Since then, representations have been made regularly to the Centre. Governor Banwarilal Purohit too referred to the demand in his Assembly address last month. Early this month, the government told the Rajya Sabha that neither the Constitution nor the CAA permitted dual citizenship. This ought to put an end to the debate, which will otherwise create false expectations among the refugees.
At the same time, given the need to treat the refugees in a humane manner and in the absence of a law on refugees, the Centre should stop seeing Sri Lankan refugees as “illegal migrants”; they entered India with the knowledge and approval of Indian authorities. As for those who wish to remain in India for studies or to earn a livelihood, the authorities should tweak the OCI Cardholder scheme or offer an exclusive long-term visa. By this, the stay of 95,000-odd refugees in Tamil Nadu will be regularised. As for those keen on returning home but are unable to do so for want of support from Sri Lanka, New Delhi should lean on Colombo to help enable their early return. Besides, the two countries should formulate a scheme of structured assistance to expedite voluntary repatriation, which is moving at a snail’s pace even a decade after the civil war ended. These steps can lead to a lasting resolution of issues concerning those who have been in India for over 30 years.