Sri Lanka’s refugee flow to India continues unabated

August 2nd, 2008 - 10:19 am ICT by IANS  

By M.R. Narayan Swamy
Colombo, Aug 2 (IANS) Sri Lanka may be winning the war against the Tamil Tigers but the steady influx into India of Tamils fleeing the conflict shows no signs of abating. But in recent months, Tamils who are making it to Tamil Nadu after a rough and dangerous sea ride from Sri Lanka’s north - the latest battle zone - are landing on the coast as virtual paupers.

“Earlier the refugees bought at least some of their belongings with them,” said S.C. Chandrahasan, a Sri Lankan Tamil activist who for decades has worked among the refugees from his office in Chennai. “Now they are coming without even a few rupees or clothes.”

“All they seem to have is the set of clothes they are in. The situation is very, very pathetic,” Chandrahasan told IANS in a telephonic interview.

Most of the latest arrivals, he explained, were from the northern districts of Mannar, Vavuniya and Kilinochchi, the last of which remains under the control of the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE).

Some are also from Jaffna and a handful from the LTTE bastion Mullaitivu, the largely forested region where the Tiger leadership is said to be based.

In January this year, a total of 145 refugees sailed to Tamil Nadu. The number went up slightly to 159 in February and remained steady at 233 both in March and April.

Amid escalating fighting, the figure shot up to 556 in May, dropping to 228 in June and again climbing to 242 in July.

A total of 22,000 men, women and children have come to Tamil Nadu since January 2006, when the influx began in right earnest in the wake of the resumption of fighting between the LTTE and Sri Lankan security forces.

According to Chandrahasan, several factors were driving Tamil civilians in Sri Lanka’s north to quit their homes for good.

One reason is the displacement caused by fighting. Fear of arbitrary killings by the security forces and forcible abduction of their children by the LTTE are the other factors, he said.

“As long as fighting continues, those who don’t think they are safe (in the war zone) will keep fleeing. Those who can make it to Colombo will go there. Others may head to India. Some families succeed, some fail,” Chandrahasan said.

To make it to India, a fleeing family - whatever may be its economic plight - has to pay the boatmen a princely amount. While some boatmen land them safely on the Tamil Nadu coast, others dump them on sandbanks from where they get picked up by the Indian Navy or Coast Guard.

Once they are in India, the refugees register their details with the Tamil Nadu government, undergo routine security checks (to find out if any of them are linked to the LTTE) and then get assigned to any of the 117 refugee camps in Tamil Nadu - unless they say they are able to live on their own.

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