Can Sri Lankans Fleeing Economic Crisis Get Refugee Status in India's TN?

A case has been registered against Sri Lankans for entering the country illegally, without necessary documents.

3 min read
Hindi Female

Taking cognisance of Sri Lankan nationals taking refuge in Tamil Nadu, Chief Minister M K Stalin on Thursday, 24 March said the government has asked the central government how to legally handle the refugee influx.

In a desperate bid to flee the economic crisis, Sri Lankan refugees have been flocking to Tamil Nadu. On 22 March, the Indian Coast Guard found a family of six Sri Lankan Tamils, including four children near Rameswaram. They were handed over to the Coastal Security Group. Another batch of 10 Sri Lankan nationals, all Tamils from the Jaffna and Mannar regions in northern Sri Lanka, also reached Tamil Nadu on the same day.

The six refugees in the first batch include a young couple and their four-month-old son. A woman and her two children were also in the group. In the second group, there were five children.

A case has been registered against Sri Lankans for entering the country illegally, without necessary documents.

Gajendran (24), his wife Mary Clarine (22), and their four-month-old son fled Jaffna on Tuesday.

(Photo: Accessed by The Quint)


How Can a Sri Lankan Get Refugee Status?

The illegal entry of the Sri Lankan nationals has triggered a debate on whether they can be accorded refugee status. The immigrants have cited economic crisis as the reason for fleeing the country. A case has been registered against them for entering India illegally without necessary documents.

Tamil Nadu government has decided to house the 16 Sri Lankan Tamils in the Mandapam Rehabilitation Camp, as of now. Earlier, six Sri Lankans were lodged in the Central Prison in Puzhal in Chennai.

The 1951 UN Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees along with the 1967 Protocol form the foundation of international law on refugees. A refugee is defined as one who flees their home country due to the fear of persecution on the basis of religion, race, nationality or membership of a political or social group.

On the contrary, the Sri Lankans who’ve recently arrived at Tamil Nadu have said that they fled the country due to the acute shortage of food and fuel, and lack of income.

Also, since 2012, India has not granted refugee status to anyone arriving from Sri Lanka, after the civil war ended in May 2009.

However, post-1983, when anti-Tamil riots broke out in Sri Lanka, India provided refuge to around three lakh Tamils who fled the country. Presently, there are around 90,000 camp and non-camp Sri Lankan refugees in Tamil Nadu.

Exodus of Sri Lankans Expected

An official from Chennai's Mandapam told The Quint that if the crisis continues, in the coming weeks, about 2,000 refugees might land in Tamil Nadu.

Congress legislator S Vijayadharani who raised the issue in the state's Legislative Assembly on Thursday, sought to know if the Tamil Nadu government could intervene and help the agonised Lankan Tamils.

So far, there has been no word from the Central government on how to deal with the immigrants.

It is to be noted that some of these nationals had earlier lived in Tamil Nadu as refugees and then returned to their home country after about 15 years. The state government is investigating if they had taken exit visas at the time of leaving rehabilitation camps.

Enquiries reveal that four of the 16 persons, who have returned to India, had left the Gudiyatham rehabilitation camp a few years ago, after taking exit visas. As per India law, those who had availed such exit visas cannot claim refugee status again.

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Topics:  Tamil Nadu   Refugees   India-Sri Lanka 

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