Plight of the Refugees

‘Na­tion­al­ism is an in­fan­tile dis­ease. It is the measles of mankind.’ — Al­bert Ein­stein, A Study in Sim­plic­ity

Southasia - - CONTENTS - By Huza­ima Bukhari and Dr. Ikra­mul Haq The writ­ers, au­thors of many books and part­ners in HUZA­IMA IKRAM & IJAZ, are Ad­junct Fac­ulty Mem­bers at La­hore Uni­ver­sity of Man­age­ment Sciences (LUMS).

Although the world is now called a global vil­lage, there is no deny­ing the fact that mankind is still di­vided on the ba­sis of na­tion­al­i­ties, coun­tries, eth­nic­ity, reli­gion, so­cio­cul­tural di­ver­si­ties, etc. The dilemma is that hu­man be­ings tend to view th­ese dif­fer­ences with an in­her­ent sense of bias which at times cul­mi­nates in vi­o­lence, forc­ing an ex­o­dus of peo­ple across in­ter­na­tional bor­ders, trans­form­ing their sta­tus from cit­i­zens to that of refugees. Such is the mor­bid story of hor­ror be­cause of which a ter­ror­ized pop­u­la­tion is com­pelled to leave its home­land and move to alien abodes that may or may not be hos­pitable but have to be ac­cepted as new homes. As this phe­nom­e­non be­gan tak­ing its roots, the 1951 Con­ven­tion re­gard­ing the “Sta­tus of Refugees” be­came the prin­ci­pal doc­u­ment for lay­ing down rights of refugees and legal obligations of gov­ern­ments; Ar­ti­cle 1 of the Con­ven­tion de­scribes a refugee as some­one who has fled his/her coun­try “ow­ing to well-founded fear of be­ing per­se­cuted for rea­sons of race, reli­gion, na­tion­al­ity, membership of a par­tic­u­lar so­cial group or po­lit­i­cal opin­ion.”

Says Pras­anth Sekar, 21, an en­gi­neer­ing stu­dent whose par­ents moved from Sri Lanka, their par­adise is­land, to an In­dian refugee camp at Keezh­pud­hu­pattu in the 1990s:

“Sri Lanka for me, to be hon­est, is more than any­thing else, just a dis­tant is­land. My mum and dad say that it was a great place and that it was much bet­ter than where we are now. Snake gourd, any veg­etable that you can think of, was richer there. But that’s just what

they say; I my­self don’t re­ally know.”

Maithri­pala Sirisena, Sri Lanka’s re­cently elected Sin­halese Pres­i­dent ap­pears determined to pave the ground for repa­tri­a­tion of the Tamils who took refuge in neigh­bour­ing In­dia. On as­sump­tion of power, one of the first mea­sures his gov­ern­ment took was com­menc­ing a round of ne­go­ti­a­tions with In­dia for drawing up a suit­able strat­egy to re­turn ap­prox­i­mately 100,000 refugees scat­tered in about 100 camps in the Tamil Nadu state. It might be a source of ex­cite­ment for those refugees who would want to spend their re­main­ing years in their birth coun­try but for the new gen­er­a­tion, there are many unan­swered ques­tions, many doubts and much anx­i­ety as to their fu­ture.

In the last quar­ter of 2014, a study ti­tled “Durable So­lu­tions for Sri Lankan Tamil Refugees in In­dia” was con­ducted by the Tata In­sti­tute of So­cial Sciences (TISS), Mumbai. It re­vealed that 67 per­cent of 100,000 Tamil refugees in­ter­viewed, did not want to re­turn to Sri Lanka, 23 per­cent of the 520 fam­i­lies ques­tioned wanted to re­turn home while only 4 per­cent wished to mi­grate to a third coun­try to join rel­a­tives ( The Hindu, Oc­to­ber 27, 2014).

As re­ported by The Times of In­dia (Jan­uary 30, 2015), E. M. Su­darsana Natchi­ap­pan, head of the Par­lia­men­tary Stand­ing Com­mit­tee, af­ter in­ter­act­ing with refugees at the Ra­manatha­pu­ram Col­lec­torate, said that Sri Lankan Tamil refugees were will­ing to re­turn to their home­land if the gov­ern­ments of In­dia and Sri Lanka as­sured them that their land would be re­turned and their liveli­hood was as­sured. Peo­ple were wor­ried about safety to their lives, prop­erty and job. If the gov­ern­ments could al­lay th­ese con­cerns, most peo­ple were will­ing to re­turn and those who wanted to re­main in In­dia were peo­ple who were born here, he said. "More than 1,600 refugee chil­dren were born in In­dia. They are In­dian cit­i­zens. Also, refugees who have stayed in In­dia for more than 30 years are not el­i­gi­ble for gov­ern­ment jobs in Lanka. They want In­dian cit­i­zen­ship."

The en­tire sit­u­a­tion has be­come all the more chal­leng­ing for both the gov­ern­ments of In­dia as well as Sri Lanka. On the one hand, there is a dire need for Sri Lanka to re­claim and re­set­tle its cit­i­zens in or­der to re­store the coun­try’s rep­u­ta­tion in the world and, on the other, es­tab­lish a con­ducive so­cio-po­lit­i­cal en­vi­ron­ment that would at­tract mem­bers of the alien­ated younger gen­er­a­tion to re­turn home. On the other hand, those who are de­sirous of stay­ing back in In­dia would need to be nat­u­ral­ized to al­low them ac­cess to gov­ern­ment jobs and other ameni­ties, pro­vided the In­di­ans are will­ing to ab­sorb them.

Mean­while, the United Na­tions High Com­mis­sion for Refugees (UNHCR) that co­op­er­ates with gov­ern­ments along with NGOs and other stake­hold­ers to pro­tect, as­sist and find durable so­lu­tions for refugees has in­creased its ca­pac­ity to con­duct refugee sta­tus de­ter­mi­na­tion (RSD) and re­set­tle­ment sub­mis­sions. It would be work­ing closely with the Gov­ern­ment of Sri Lanka in fa­cil­i­tat­ing not only the vol­un­tary re­turn of Sri Lankan refugees in safety and dig­nity but would also help them to rein­te­grate through com­mu­nity mo­bi­liza­tion projects. If it comes as good news to the re­turn­ing Sri Lankans, UNHCR would li­aise with rel­e­vant peo­ple to help a smooth han­dover in its process of phas­ing out its pro­gramme for the IDPs in 2015. Sri Lankan refugees in­ter­ested in vol­un­tary repa­tri­a­tion may ap­proach the near­est UNHCR of­fice in their coun­try of asy­lum. Once the re­quest is pro­cessed, they are given air tick­ets to Sri Lanka and are helped to ob­tain rel­e­vant travel doc­u­ments. In Sri Lanka, UNHCR staff meets re­turnees at the air­port and pro­vide them with a mod­est trans­port grant to help them make their way home.

Although the num­ber of refugees ar­riv­ing home is steadily in­creas­ing, per­haps much to the joy of the older gen­er­a­tion, but for the In­dian born youth, it would be an up­hill task of read­just­ing to what may be a com­pletely dif­fer­ent world from the one they were raised in. In the event of a pos­i­tive re­sponse from the Sri Lankan gov­ern­ment by en­sur­ing se­cu­rity to life and prop­erty along with pro­vi­sion of a de­cent liveli­hood, the younger lot could awaken a sense of loy­alty to­wards their coun­try of ori­gin and adapt to the same en­vi­ron­ment that was ear­lier en­joyed by their par­ents.

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