The last seven of the Sri Lankan refugees who were given a haven in the UAE for more than two years will leave for a new life in Brazil on Monday. The four men, two women and a child said they were overjoyed that the UN had found them a permanent home. They were among 45 Tamils whose boat ran into trouble after they sailed from India in October 2012 to seek asylum in Australia.
“I feel like I am being reborn,” said Ramanan Gunaseelan, 37, who will board a flight to Sao Paulo with his wife Meera and their daughter Tharanika, 5. “We fled Sri Lanka because we were scared for our lives and our safety. Now we can finally hope for peace. “My daughter was three years old when we came here. Now she can go to Brazil and start school. “The UN has told us that the government there will help us to get a house, settle down, learn Portuguese and find jobs.”
The 45 were rescued by the Singaporean ship Pinnacle Bliss, which was on its way to Dubai. They have since been living in Jebel Ali Port, waiting for a country to accept them. The asylum-seekers had been given refuge by the UAE despite the country not being a signatory to the Refugee Convention of 1951, and thus not being legally obliged to take them. The UAE also granted access to the UN High Commission for Refugees to determine the legitimacy of their claims.
Of those who arrived, seven were sent back by the UN as they were deemed not to be in need of international protection. Those remaining were recognised as refugees and in the past two years have been resettled in the US, Sweden and Finland. “When we used to see them go one by one, our hearts used to sink,” said Mr Gunaseelan, who fled from Sri Lanka fearing persecution by the government. “We used to wait for our turn to be accepted by a country and were dejected every time someone turned us down.”
Despite the promise of a new beginning, the refugees said they would always yearn to return to their homeland.
“There will always be a regret that we can’t go back to Sri Lanka,” Mr Gunaseelan said. Kandeepan Nadarajan, 31, said: “I don’t want to go back because I am afraid. But how can we live without seeing our mother? I hope things change in the future and we can go back.”
The UNHCR confirmed that the seven would be leaving on Monday night. “The last seven remaining refugees of the Tamil group will be leaving the UAE to Brazil,” said Babar Baloch, a spokesman for the UNHCR in Geneva. “With the departure of this group the situation of the asylum seekers, who were rescued at sea and were allowed into Jebel Ali by the Government of the UAE since October 2012, has been resolved.
“The UNHCR has successfully identified durable situations for all recognised refugees under its resettlement programme.” Many of the 45 had been living in India, which lacks refugee laws, for several years before leaving for Australia in the hope of permanent settlement. (The National)