“The conditions in Sri Lanka are still not conducive for refugees to return to their native land”
Terming premature an inter-ministerial meeting to be held on Friday in New Delhi to discuss the issue of voluntary repatriation of Sri Lankan Tamil refugees in Tamil Nadu, Chief Minister O. Panneerselvam on Wednesday called upon Prime Minister Narendra Modi to defer the meeting for now.
The conditions in the Northern and Eastern provinces of Sri Lanka are still not conducive for the refugees to return to their native land. The process of voluntary repatriation could be considered only after concrete and credible measures are taken by the Sri Lankan government, the Chief Minister said in his letter to Mr. Modi. The Sri Lankan refugees in Tamil Nadu should be given adequate verifiable assurances enabling them to gain the requisite confidence to return to their native land, he emphasised.
Ahead of the scheduled meeting on January 30, the Centre had asked the Tamil Nadu government to send a senior official. Pointing out that even now, those refugees wanting to leave for Sri Lanka on their own volition were doing so, the Chief Minister said the meeting could be perceived to be an exercise to encourage Tamil refugees to leave for Sri Lanka.
On the regime change in Sri Lanka, Mr. Panneerselvam said recent political developments were a cause of hope and had raised expectations of reconciliation. “However, there are still apprehensions about the presence of the Sri Lankan army in Tamil areas,” he said. The positive intentions of the new Sri Lankan government to ensure rehabilitation and reconciliation were yet to be translated into action, which would give confidence to the Sri Lankan Tamils living outside Sri Lanka to return.
At present, about 1.02 lakh refugees belonging to about 34,500 families, were living in the State, of whom around 65,000 refugees were in 107 refugee camps. Credible and specific reconciliation measures must be undertaken, which alone could create adequate confidence among the Tamil refugees to return to their native land. “Our interactions with the refugees in Tamil Nadu and through NGOs working with refugees also reinforce this conclusion,” he noted.