Chennai: Respecting the "will of the people"
and decisions of the respective governments are important
while repatriating refugees to their native countries, a top
official of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees
said on Wednesday.
"First of all, we always respect the will of the people.
We respond to people`s needs and designs. So when people want
to go back, we try to support them," Montserrat Feixas Vihe,
Chief of Mission UNHCR, said.
She was responding to reporters` queries here on
repatriation of Sri Lankan Tamil refugees in India in the wake
of the LTTE`s defeat by the Lankan army in the island nation
"In this case, we will discuss it with the governments of
India and Sri Lanka to see if there is any area where our
support is required. If it is required, we will provide it and
if the governments feel they can take care of it, then it is
their decision," Vihe said.
Though the issue depends on case by case basis, it was
important that will of the people is respected.
The UNHCR has told the refugees that whenever they want
to go back, they have to sign a declaration in this regard,
she said and added that there "is no pressure" in India on the
refugees to return.
On Tamil Nadu Chief Minister M Karunanidhi`s suggestion
to the Centre to grant permanent residency to Lankan refugees
in India, she said it was the "internal decision of the
Government of India and we have no say".
But there has been precedence when "tens of thousands
of refugees in Tanzania became citizens," of that country
a few years back. "It is not common, but the possibility
exists. But such issues are with the government to decide, we
will not intervene," Vihe said.
To a question, she said developing countries are "more
generous" towards refugees.
Tamil Nadu Government`s Director of Rehabilitation,
Muthiah Kalaivanan, recalled the various sops being offered to
Sri Lankan Tamil refugees in the state, including bringing
them under the ambit of government`s welfare and populist
He claimed a majority of the refugees prefer to settle in
Earlier, in her address at a national seminar on "Refugee
Situation in India," Vihe said the country`s tolerance and
secularism allowed refugees to live a better life in the
She said India had a good record in protecting refugees
and urged the country to play a bigger role in their
Sikkim University Vice Chancellor Prof Mahendra P Lama
spoke about the refugee situation in developing countries and
more industrialised ones.
"For instance, the number of Afghan refugees who were
allowed to take asylum in the industrialised countries has
been insignificant in comparison to the gigantic burden on
Pakistan," he said.
The developed countries "more and more jealously
safeguard" their prerogative to offer asylum, Lama said,
adding they practice various restrictive policies including
mutual conventions in this regard.