Mixed feeling among refugees

refugeeNirmala Devi, a mother of two growing children, is happy that she is back in Vavuniya, her husband’s place, after having lived in Tamil Nadu as a refugee for 23 years. She returned to Sri Lanka in 2013 along with her husband and the children.

“We wanted to raise our children in the right way” is her answer why she and her husband decided to come back. “And, that’s not possible in a camp for refugees,” she says nonchalantly. Her parents and younger sister are still in camps of Karur and Coimbatore. “I won’t compel them to return. The decision should be theirs,” she points out.

Angamuthu Vanniyamoorthy, a 61-year-old farmer of Nagal Iluppaikulam of the Vavuniya district, has been able to rehabilitate himself swiftly on his return since 2012 even though he was away for 22 years. Thanks to the help from OfERR (Organisation for Eelam Refugees Rehabilitation) and others, his daughter, who was born in Tamil Nadu when he and his family were in a Krishnagiri camp, has been given the citizenship of Sri Lanka. “Before returning to Sri Lanka, one has to ensure that one has all the important documents including birth certificates. There shouldn’t be any difficulty in getting citizenship here for one’s children,” he says, adding that not many follow this and complain later.

But, Sivaguru Premachandran, a tailor by profession, who came back to Jaffna four years ago after 17 years, is not on the side of Nirmala Devis and Vanniyamoorthys. Repenting his decision, he wonders: “Why one should return? For everything from entertainment to education to health care to art and culture, we, in the Northern Province, invariably look to Tamil Nadu,” he says.

He took the decision to return only after finding out from his relatives and friends about the situation. Like many others, he wanted to shed the tag of “refugee” and lead the rest of his life with honour and dignity. However, he admits that he and his wife have not been able to adapt themselves to the Jaffna environment after a prolonged displacement.

Northern Province Chief Minister C.V. Wigneswaran says many refugee-returnees are “disillusioned.” He also contends that in respect of refugees living in Tamil Nadu who hail from Mullativu and Vavuniya, despite them holding land ownership documents, permits have been cancelled and Sinhalese have been settled there. This has to be reversed to enable voluntary repatriation of such refugees. (The Hindu)

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