Chennai: Tamil Nadu Chief Minister O Panneerselvam on Wednesday termed Centre's decision to hold an inter-ministerial meeting to discuss repatriation of Lankan Tamil refugees as "premature" and asked it to defer it, saying conditions in Sri Lanka's northeast were not conducive for them to return.
Referring to the recent letter from the External Affairs Ministry to the state government asking it to depute a senior officer to attend the meeting to the Island Nation, he said, "The conditions in the Northern and Eastern provinces of Sri Lanka are still not conducive for the refugees to return to their native land".
"Recent political developments are a cause for hope and have raised expectations of reconciliation. However, there are still apprehensions about the presence of Sri Lankan Army in Tamil areas. The atmosphere of fear, intimidation and of possible human rights violations has not entirely dissipated", Panneerselvam said in his letter to Prime Minister Narendra Modi.
He said there was a concern that Tamils could be reduced to minority even in their own traditional habitation areas.
"There are internally displaced Tamils in Sri Lanka who are still living in camps. The positive intention of the new Government in Sri Lanka to ensure rehabilitation and reconciliation are yet to be translated into action which would give confidence to the Sri Lankan Tamils living outside Sri Lanka to return," he said.
Stating that credible and specific reconciliation measures must be undertaken which alone can create adequate confidence among Lankan Tamils to return, he said Tamil refugees in Tamil Nadu "are particularly concerned about the pace and manner in which the internally displaced persons within Sri Lanka are being rehabilitated."
He said about 2.12 refugees have gone back by their own arrangements with government assistance.
At present, there were 1.02 lakh refugees belonging to 34,524 families still in Tamil Nadu of whom 69,924 belonging to 19,625 families are in 107 refugee camps, he said.
The process of voluntary repatriation could be considered only after concrete and credible measures are taken by the Lankan government and Lankan refugees in the state are given adequate verifiable assurances and gain confidence to return.
"In this context, we believe that having a meeting to discuss voluntary repatriation of Sri Lankan Tamil refugees is premature and should be deferred for the present", he said.