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6/6/2006

No stopping Sri Lankan Tamil flow to India

Filed under: india — admin @ 5:28 am

New Delhi/Chennai – Sri Lankan Tamils are continuing to flee by sea to India to escape the violence in their country and a senior Tamil activist based in Tamil Nadu says the inflow is unlikely to stop soon.

‘People will keep coming because they don’t think there is going to be peace in Sri Lanka; they think it is going to be war,’ said S.C. Chandrahasan, a Sri Lankan Tamil who heads OFFER, an NGO that looks after the welfare of Tamil refugees.

‘The people who are coming feel this (Sri Lankan) government is not going to protect them (from Sinhalese mobs) and there is no single person they can turn to for protection,’ Chandrahasan told IANS on telephone from Tamil Nadu.

He complimented the Indian authorities for taking care of the arriving Tamils and said large numbers were waiting in Sri Lanka’s northwestern Mannar district after selling off all their belongings to illegally cross the sea to India.

By Sunday night, the number of Sri Lankan Tamils who have made it to Tamil Nadu fleeing direct and proxy fighting between the military and the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) was nearing 2,500.

Most of them are from the eastern district of Trincomalee where attacks on their settlements by Sinhalese gangs have spurred the refugee movement. They moved over to Mannar in the northwest by bus or through the forests.

‘Larger numbers are waiting in and around Mannar trying to get boats,’ he pointed out, though the outbreak of monsoon has made crossing the sea dividing Sri Lanka and Tamil Nadu much more hazardous.

One woman who landed a week ago was nine months pregnant who was repeatedly tossed in the air as she made it to the Tamil Nadu coast in a crowded boat, fully drenched and barely able to breathe.

‘We asked her why she took the risk of travelling in this condition. She had a simple answer: ‘I want my child to live’.

‘You need to see the faces of those who are coming over. They are scared. They have lost faith in the (Sri Lankan) government. The hardcore ones have gone to (LTTE areas), the others to Mannar and then to India.

‘They have sold off everything they had and paid boatmen 6,000 to 12,000 (Sri Lankan) rupees depending on the number of people in a boat and depending on whether or not the Sri Lankan Navy is patrolling the sea.’

Chandrahasan said India had been magnanimous in taking care of the refugees.

‘Sometimes the boatmen dump these refugees on sand banks and little islets off Rameswaram,’ he said. ‘The Indian Navy and Coast Guard pick them up and really take care of them.

‘We have opened an office along the coast. We provide them drinking water and meals on their arrival. After which they go to refugee centres and get themselves registered.

‘The commissioner of rehabilitation (department in Tamil Nadu) and the collector of Ramanathapuram have been gracious. They have allowed the children coming over to get into schools in Tamil Nadu.’

Chandrahasan, whose outfit also runs offices in Colombo, Mannar, Vavuniya and Batticaloa in Sri Lanka, said the only answer to end this humanitarian crisis was to create conditions in the island so that Tamils did not feel they had to leave their country.

‘Relief centres also need to come up in Mannar where the refugees can live without being disturbed by the security forces or the LTTE. If these happen, then people won’t come to India. Otherwise they will.’

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