Nine-year-old Arunraj and his younger sister Rakshana are excited about their journey on Thursday. For the first time in their lives, they would be travelling by an airplane and both want to have a window seat.
The children, born to a Sri Lankan refugee couple in a special camp at Adiyanuthu in Dindigul district of Tamil Nadu, are among the 73 who left the special camps for Sri Lanka with the assistance of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) on Thursday, to start a new life on the island.
“We fled Vavuniya in 1990 fearing for our lives. I was nine years old when we came to Mandapam by boat. We want to go back because all our relatives are there,” says the children’s mother S. Theresamma.
Her husband returned to Lanka five months ago to see whether the situation in Mannar was conducive to them to resettle there. “He said jobs in Ceylon are a problem. But we are confident of finding some livelihood as I have learnt tailoring. We will send our children to school there.”
For 26-year old M. Prakash of Mandapam camp in Rameswaram, who came to Arichamunai by boat in 2007, concern over his future prompted him to decide to return.
“I have studied only till Class 10. Though there are schools here, my situation did not allow me to study and so I worked in a fishing company for a daily wage. I have saved some money but I can’t buy any land here as I will be a refugee as long as I live here,” the native of Jaffna points out. He intends to look for jobs in Malaysia or Singapore, once he returns to Sri Lanka.
Though the conflict between the government and the rebel forces ended on the island in May 2009, about 1.02 lakh refugees from Sri Lanka still remain in special camps across Tamil Nadu.
“We assist Sri Lankan refugees, who voluntarily decide to return to their home country. We help them in their documentation and facilitate and financially support their travel. On their arrival, UNHCR Sri Lanka provides some support to assist them in settling down,” UNHCR India’s spokesperson Shuchita Mehta said.
Between 2002 and 2014, UNHCR India has assisted about 12,500 Lankan refugees in voluntary repatriation. Since January, a total of 315 refugees returned home, the Hindu reports.