It is up to Sri Lankan Tamil refugees to return to their home country or not, according to Pon. Radhakrishnan, India’s Union Minister of State for Road Transport, Highways and Shipping.
After visiting a camp for the refugees in Gummidipoondi, on the northern outskirts of Chennai, Radhakrishnan told The Hindu on Monday evening that he favoured voluntary repatriation. “If the refugees want to remain here, suitable arrangements should be in place.” They should also keep in mind that there should be no fall in the population of Tamils in Sri Lanka. He visited the camp which was affected by the recent cyclonic storm “Vardah.”
There are about one lakh refugees living in the State including around 36,650 persons living outside the camps. According to information provided by the Ministry of Prison Reforms, Rehabilitation, Resettlement and Hindu Religious Affairs in the Sri Lanka government, 5,266 persons returned to Sri Lanka from 2011 to mid-November. As part of a scheme of the office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), those who go back on their own are provided free air tickets, reintegration allowance of $75 per person, transport allowance of $19 per person and monetary non-food grant of $75 per family.
The Sri Lankan authorities have initiated a livelihood assistance programme of maximum LKR (Sri Lankan currency) 100,000 per refugee returnee family to support the livelihood activities.
S.C. Chandrahasan, founder of the Organisation for Eelam Refugees Rehabilitation (OfERR), has been pushing for a package of assistance to those who are willing to return.
Apart from covering subsistence allowance, the proposed assistance includes provisions for the establishment of homes and livelihood. The assistance programme can be implemented by the Indian and Sri Lankan governments jointly.
Mr. Chandrahasan is also for the resumption of ferry services between Rameswaram in Tamil Nadu and Talaimannar in the Northern Province. According to him, initially the services can be used for the return of refugees. Subsequently, pilgrims on either side of the Palk Bay can use the services.