Tamils still coming to India, but it is now a trickle

Last Updated: Friday, July 31, 2009 - 13:30

New Delhi: More than two months after the Tamil Tigers were decimated, Tamils are still fleeing Sri Lanka to come to India, but mostly by air. And the number has reduced to a trickle.

Only 109 Tamils arrived in Tamil Nadu, the Indian state closest to Sri Lanka`s shore, in May, the month Tigers chief Veluipillai Prabhakaran and all his top lieutenants were killed.

The number went up to 142 in June and it dropped to 89 in July - one of the lowest since the refugee influx began in right earnest in 1983 after the anti-Tamil violence in Sri Lanka.

But thanks to a tight naval blockade on the island`s coastline, few Tamils cross the choppy sea now, said SC Chandrahasan, a Sri Lankan activist in India who has worked among the refugees for well over two decades.

Instead, they are heading to Colombo and boarding flights in what is a new phenomenon, Chandrahasan, who heads an organisation called OFFER, said.

"More people are now coming by flight because it is not easy to come by boat," he said. "It is very risky, costly and difficult to come through boats."

Of the 109 who came in May, only 13 came by boat. In June, 39 of the 142 sailed to Tamil Nadu. The figure was just 10 in July.

Chandrahasan added that many of the estimated 280,000 in the refugee camps in northern Sri Lanka were making enquiries to find out if they could make it to India to start life afresh.

These are the people who have been kept in camps ever since the military overran the last of areas controlled by the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) in May, ending one of the world`s longest running insurgencies.

"There is constant expectation that a sizeable section (in the camps) will prefer to come to India," said Chandrahasan.

"But this will depend on the political situation and the accommodation of people who were in LTTE areas," he said. "If all goes well, people will not come. There are constant enquiries."

As of June 1, there were 73,475 Sri Lankan Tamils in refugee camps in Tamil Nadu, a sprawling state separated from Sri Lanka by the narrow Palk Strait.

Many Sri Lankan Tamils also live in Tamil Nadu outside the refugee camps.

Chandrahasan explained that the main factor still driving Tamils to India was fear.

"If you talk to them, it is clear why they are so traumatised. Their minds are not at rest. They are reacting to what they saw and what they went through.

"The healing is not taking place (in Sri Lanka). The healing has to happen. If that happens, then it will be fine."

Are LTTE members also escaping to India?

"No high profile (LTTE) person can come through," he said. "(Some of the people) may have had some links. Important LTTE people cannot come through."


First Published: Friday, July 31, 2009 - 13:30

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