Sri Lankan Tamil Refugees’ Right to Livelihood

Jayalalitha’s accusation that the Tamil Nadu state government extended support to Liberation Tigers was the hotly debated controversy in the assembly session in Tamil Nadu last month. Jayalalitha and the DMK’s alliance partner Congress demanded arrest and imprisonment for 10 years of LTTE supporters in the government. Karunanidhi was condemned by the Congress for his poetry condoling the death of Tamil Selvan, one of the political leaders of LTTE, two months back. In the backdrop of this hot debate in media recently, Raj Thackeray who threatened North Indians with dire consequences if they do not leave Maharashtra, commented in an interviews that all political parties in Tamil Nadu are pro-LTTE and expressed his utter ignorance of the politics and political forces in Tamil Nadu.

Sri Lanka is located at a distance of 20 sea-miles from Tamil Nadu. The Tamils here, oppressed by the majority Sinhalese, resorted to armed struggle after attempting peaceful methods in the beginning. In the subsequent war-like situation, thousands of Tamils have lost their lives and properties. There are many criticisms towards LTTE’s political positions and their military tactics. Still, the militants and the people cannot be equated. The Sri Lankan military consisting only of Sinhalese, is engaged in ruthless massacre of Tamils. In retaliation to LTTE’s attack on Sri Lankan military establishments, the Sri Lankan army is killing innocent Tamils. Sri Lankan army copters showered bombs on a Tamil Children’s Home at Sencholai on 14 August 2007 and killed 61 innocent children. Journalists criticizing Sri Lankan military actions are being shot at. Representatives of NGOs working in Tamil areas are being killed. Moreover, all roads to Tamil areas are barricaded and even the supply of essential items is blocked by the military.

The Sri Lankan military has banned the fishing activities of the Sri Lankan Tamils. In this backdrop, it has become a routine for the Sri Lankan military to shoot immediately when they encounter Indian Tamils who venture out for fishing. More than 156 Indian fishermen have been killed so far by the Sri Lankan Navy. Last month, Tamil Nadu police issued warning in coastal police stations to the effect that the Sri Lankan Navy has planted sea-mines and not to touch any suspicious objects in the sea. But, Government of India has not initiated any fruitful steps to ward off this danger. Rather, the Indian government is giving training to Sri Lankan police in Indian soil and is also supplying armaments to Sri Lankan military. The irony is that it is the same Indian government that provided arms training to Tamil militants of Sri Lanka in Indian soil. Any military assistance extended to Sri Lankan military will have a direct bearing on the Tamil people of Sri Lanka. It is to be noted here that the United Nations and the human rights organizations all over the world have condemned violations of human rights by the Sri Lankan government and the army.

As a direct consequence, Sri Lankan refugees are flocking to the coasts of Tamil Nadu. There are no laws or legal framework in India to provide the necessary legal rights to the refugees. The government has withdrawn 2% reservation for refugees in educational institutions and in turn, the right to higher education is denied by the government to more than 50000 Sri Lankan refugees. Moreover, the refugees are always treated with suspicion. Refugee camps lack even basic amenities.

In the backdrop of inhuman conditions prevailing in the refugee camps, the government should publish a white paper containing details of inmates of the camps, the duration of their stay and whether anyone was forcibly sent to Sri Lanka, etc. The government should also appoint an enquiry commission under a sitting judge of the High Court to probe the conditions prevailing in the camps.

It is highly deplorable that the Government of India has not yet signed the 1951 International Convention related to the Refugees that has been signed by more than 100 countries in the world. The Government of India should immediately sign 1951 International Convention on the Status of Refugees and also the subsequent 1967 Protocol on the Status of Refugees. Confining refugees for several years in special camps without enquiry and trial should be stopped. The Government of India also should not treat refugees in different states belonging to different nationalities, race and languages differently. The Government of India should evolve a national policy and formulate an act with regard to refugees.

All democracy loving organizations and people should condemn the anti-people actions of the Sri Lankan government and also the Indian intervention in the internal affairs of the Sri Lankan government. Sri Lankan army actions and the supportive actions of the Indian government against Sri Lankan Tamils should be stopped forthwith, in order to protect the right to livelihood of the Tamils in Sri Lanka.

Liberation Archive