The ongoing Sri Lanka crisis finds echoes across the Palk straits in Tamil Nadu as refugees have started arriving in the state over the past fortnight. Since the Eelam war ended in 2009, this is the first-time refugees have arrived on the Tamil Nadu coast. The crisis has further deepened with the entire cabinet resigning to prevent the anger against them for mismanagement. Driven by hunger, the Tamil community has taken refuge with their Tamil brethren in India. About 16 of them landed in Rameshwaram in Tamil Nadu in two batches. They are the Sri Lankan Tamils who cannot face the untenable situation in the island country undergoing an unprecedented economic crisis, including severe food shortage. Sri Lankan refugees fleeing to India is not a new phenomenon as Tamil Nadu had provided them shelter and food since the days of the Eelam War. These refugees landed in Tamil Nadu at different times, mainly to avoid violence. But today, they have left the island country for economic reasons and hunger. Some of them are still living in the state in shelters.
The second generation of refugee Tamils is also living in the camps in the state. They have no identity, don’t belong to any country, and are stuck in no man’s land. The Tamil Nadu government provides them free education, healthcare, ration cards, and a meager allowance for their families. They hope to get Indian citizenship, while the older generation is open to returning to Sri Lanka. Tamil Issue has become political with all the Dravidian parties sympathising and speaking for them. They all vie with each other to plead for their Tamil brethren. They also put pressure on the Centre for the Sri Lanka reconciliation process with the Tamils. It has also become an issue in many past elections. Well, India has received refugees from many countries, including Tibet, Bangladesh, Afghanistan, Sri Lanka, and Myanmar. According to UNHCR, there are about 2 lakh refugees in India. The tricky point here is that India is not a signatory of the UN Refugee Convention (1951) or its Protocol (1967), so the Tamil refugees face the problem of not belonging to a country.
This time too, Tamil Nadu chief minister MK Stalin has sought the Centre’s approval for providing the Tamil refugees with humanitarian relief. During his visit to Delhi last week, Stalin revealed to the media that he had also spoken about the new arrivals running away from the Sri Lankan crisis. He has suggested that they could be accorded refugee status and rehabilitated. How far it is correct to send aid to a section of Sri Lankan is a question when the whole country suffers from hunger. Tamil Nadu puts pressure on India’s foreign policy towards Sri Lanka on three main issues. The other issue pending is the resumption of talks between India and Sri Lanka about the frequent detention and arrest of Tamil Nadu fishermen who stray into the Sri Lankan waters. The third is retrieving Katchatheevu, a small island Indira Gandhi ceded to Sri Lanka in 1974. The Tamil Nadu Government has been insisting on its retrieval. In the Indian sub-continent, Pakistan is undergoing a political crisis while Sri Lanka has an economic crisis that has turned now into a full-blown political crisis. The entire cabinet resigned on Sunday night and the ruling establishment is clueless. India has to play its role in helping its island neighbour deal with the burgeoning crisis.