Visits 107 camps housing Sri Lankan refugees; coverage unprecedented, say officials
Billed as the first such exercise of its kind, a Central team has carried out an exhaustive inspection of camps housing Sri Lankan refugees in the State.
The team, led by A.V. Dharma Reddy, joint secretary in the Union Ministry of Home Affairs, covered 107 out of 109 camps between Friday and Monday.
On Tuesday, it held a wrap-up meeting with Public Secretary P. Senthilkumar. This marked a departure from the past, when Central government officials visited only select camps. A State government official said the team, which had eight members in total and split into three groups, held interactions with representatives of the two camps that were left out.
“This is the first time that such a coverage of the camps has been carried out,” said S.C. Chandrahasan, founder of the Organisation for Eelam Refugees’ Rehabilitation (OfERR). However, he pointed out that the team did not hold any discussions with him and his organisation.
According to the government official, the visiting team was ‘satisfied’ with the way the dole was being disbursed to the refugees, using biometric cards.
A host of other welfare measures was being provided, for which the State government was bearing 60% of the cost, the official said.
The Central team’s visit follows a meeting convened by Union Home Minister Rajnath Singh in New Delhi a few weeks ago, during which he directed Ministry officials to ensure “good living conditions” for the refugees. The issue of Tibetan refugees was discussed.
Mr. Chandrahasan, as well as a couple of government officials, said the team had also gauged the ‘mood’ of the refugees on the issue of voluntary repatriation.
While Mr. Chandrahasan’s organisation has been, as a matter of principle, favouring repatriation, there have also been voices, from certain sections of the refugee community, clamouring for Indian citizenship. This found resonance during the team’s visit to the camps, the officials said. There is a view among Tamil parties in the neighbouring country that the return of refugees to the Northern and Eastern provinces would pave the way for greater representation of the Tamil community in the Sri Lankan Parliament.
Those who are in favour of granting Indian citizenship to refugees point out that refugees of Indian origin won’t gain anything by returning to Sri Lanka.