CHENNAI: Asserting that the conditions in the northern and eastern provinces of Sri Lanka are still not conducive for the refugees to return to their native land, Tamil Nadu chief minister O Panneerselvam on Wednesday said a meeting convened by the Union external affairs ministry to discuss the voluntary repatriation of refugees is premature and that it should be deferred.
The ministry had sent an invite to the state government recently to depute an officer to attend an inter-ministerial meeting on January 30 to discuss the issue of voluntary repatriation.
In a letter to Prime Minister Narendra Modi, the chief minister conveyed the state’s concerns.
“The process of voluntary repatriation could be considered only after concrete and credible measures are taken by the Sri Lankan government and the Sri Lankan refugees in Tamil Nadu are given adequate verifiable assurances and gain the requisite confidence to return to their native land,” the chief minister said.
A total of 3.04 lakh refugees came to Tamil Nadu in four phases since 1983. No refugees have come to India since 2013.
While 2.12 lakh refugees have gone back by their own arrangements, with government assistance and with UNHCR assistance, there are about 1.02 lakh refugees belonging to 34,524 families still in the state. Of them, 64,924 persons belonging to 19,625 families are in 107 refugee camps.
He said the recent political developments were a cause of hope and had raised expectations of reconciliation. “However, there are still apprehensions about the presence of the Sri Lankan army in Tamil areas. The atmosphere of fear, intimidation and of a possible human rights violations has not entirely dissipated,” Panneerselvam said in the letter.
“There is a concern that Tamils could be reduced to a minority even in their own traditional habitation areas,” the chief minister said, pointing to internally displaced Tamils in Sri Lanka who are still living in camps.
The positive intention of the new government in Sri Lanka to ensure rehabilitation and reconciliation were yet to be translated into action which would give confidence to the Sri Lankan Tamils living outside Sri Lanka to return, he minister said.
Credible and specific reconciliation measures must be undertaken, which alone can create adequate confidence amongst the Lankan Tamil refugees to return to their native land. “Our interactions with the refugees in Tamil Nadu and through NGOs working with refugees also reinforce this conclusion,” he said.
The Sri Lankan refugees are particularly concerned about the pace and manner in which the internally displaced persons within Sri Lankan are being rehabilitated.
Panneerselvam said the autonomy and democratic rights of the minority Tamil population in the country should be fully protected and they should not be subjected to further persecution and humiliation nor their second class citizenship status perpetuated.