Chennai: The Sri Lankan civil war which claimed more than 100,000 lives over a quarter of a century officially ended in 2009. However, Tamil refugee advocates in India claim that ongoing reprisals by Sri Lankan security forces against Tamil activists is prompting many to continue to seek asylum in countries such as India and Australia.
The closest safe haven to Sri Lanka is the south-east Indian state of Tamil Nadu where about 67,000 Sri Lankan Tamil registered refugees are housed in 110 refugee camps spread across 25 districts, with as many as 17,000 children born to Tamil refugees living in Tamil Nadu considered stateless.
It is estimated that another 35,000 Tamil refugees are living in Tamil Nadu illegally in areas outside the camps which are strictly monitored by Indian security forces.
Over the past six weeks a new drive by Sri Lankan security forces to route out Tamil separatists and people still loyal to the banned Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam has prompted a new wave of asylum seekers to India refugee advocates say.
In May, 10 Sri Lankan Tamil refugees, who paid about $2000 each for passage on a fishing boat, landed in Tamil Nadu claiming they feared torture and imprisonment if they had remained in Sri Lanka.
Other Tamils in Sri Lanka say that people have been imprisoned in recent weeks without charge or trial.
Sri Lankan government officials have countered that Tamil Tiger remnants have continued to try revive the separatists aspirations among Sri Lanka’s Tamil population and that the security operations have been necessary to prevent another conflict from emerging.
Sri Lankan refugee rights activists G.S. Dias told Fairfax Media that the recent army operations against the Tamil population had heightened people’s fears and caused some people to want to flee Sri Lanka.
“That’s what’s causing this movement of people who are trying to escape the Island,” said Mr Dias. “There is a lot of fear and uncertainty. A big problem is that many people remain scarred by the civil war and it doesn’t take much for people to suddenly believe that their best option is to flee. Whether that is to India or Australia or France or any other place they think will protect them from the conflict.”