Sri Lankan refugees in India want citizenship

Chennai: A 55-year-old Sri Lankan refugee in Chennai, who was a member of the militant Tamil Eelam Liberation Organization (TELO), was among the many who came to Tamil Nadu for protection between late 1980s and 1990. He built a life here, marrying another refugee from his camp and raising two sons in their mid-20s.

His adult sons are neither Indian citizens nor Sri Lankan citizens or of any other country but this nation-state (India) is the only one they know of. “Since we live outside of the camp, my sons and I have to register at the local police station. It’s a scar to live like this.”

But there is new hope among Sri Lankan Tamil refugees like him in the state that they will be able to attain Indian citizenship in the light of chief minister MK Stalin’s slew of announcements for the community who are not covered under the Citizenship (Amendment) Act (CAA), 2019.

The controversial CAA allows India citizenship for persecuted immigrants except Muslims from three neighboring countries — Pakistan, Afghanistan and Bangladesh — but leaves out Sri Lanka.

Though the DMK has been against the CAA, it is their election promise to help ensure citizenship for Sri Lankan Tamils.

On August 27, Tamil Nadu Chief Minister M K Stalin announced a ₹317-crore package for the welfare of refugees and ₹231.54 crore for reconstructing more than 7,000 new houses in refugee camps, providing free gas stoves and cylinders.

He increased subsidies and scholarships and introduced training to make them employable. A day later, he renamed them as rehabilitation camps.

There are presently 58,822 refugees in 822 camps in 29 districts, while 34,087 refugees live outside the camps.

In the past few years, Sri Lankan Tamils who lived in refugee camps in Tamil Nadu and returned to their homes have warned others not to return because they haven’t been able to rebuild their lives on the island.

Thiyagu, general secretary of Tamil National Liberation Movement, says while the new announcements would help the community it isn’t enough.

“We have to move beyond mere concession and look at granting them political and civil rights. For Lankan Tamils here, they can’t even get into medical courses, they can study law but not practice in Indian courts, they cannot avail government jobs. These issues haven’t been addressed by the state,” Thiyagu said.

As for the dual citizenship, “it is in the hands of the NDA government, but they will not look into it now,” political commentator Raveendran Duraisamy said. (Hindustan Times)

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