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"To us all towns are one, all men our kin.
Life's good comes not from others' gift, nor ill
Man's pains and pains' relief are from within.
Thus have we seen in visions of the wise !."
Tamil Poem in Purananuru, circa 500 B.C

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Home > Struggle for Tamil Eelam > Tamil Refugees & Asylum Seekers > Horrors of Refuge in Tamil Nadu - Dr. Iniyan Elango, President of the Tamilar Human Rights Organization

Horrors of Refuge in Tamil Nadu

Dr. Iniyan Elango, President of the Tamilar Human Rights Organization
January 2001, Tamil Guardian

The civil war in Sri Lanka between the Tamil Tigers and the Sri Lanka Army has driven hundreds of thousands of Tamil civilians to seek refuge in India. But the plight of the Tamil refugees in India is shocking to say the least, writes Dr. Iniyan Elango, President of the Tamilar Human Rights Organization.

The Tamil refugees from Sri Lanka who land in the southern shores of India are classified into ordinary refugees and those suspected to have been former militants. Ordinary refugees are sent to one of the 160 "open" refugee camps in India while those suspected to be former militants are sent to the so called "special camps" which are totally six in number.

The Tamil refugees in India are severely exploited by the corrupt police and a repressive state regime which treats the refugees with an oppressive attitude.

The police arbitrarily decide who should go to the special refugee camp. Policemen force the refugees to part with their money and belongings once they land in Indian shores. If the refugees fail to pay up the bribe demanded by cops they may end up in the special refugee camps as "suspected militants".

Any refugee with any wound or a scar is branded as a militant and sent to the special refugee camp. It is highly possible for civilian people to get wounded in a Civil war of epic proportions as the one presently being waged in Sri Lanka. But any ordinary civilian with wounds, fractures or scars irrespective of his age, sex or medical condition is sent to the "special" refugee camps where they are deprived of their freedom and made to live in conditions that are worse than a concentration camp.

The special refugee camps are nothing but virtual prisons. Those refugees suspected to be militants are imprisoned in these camps without any arrest, prosecution or trial. The refugees live in very bad conditions in these special camps. They are not provided with any medical attention.

There are no sanitary facilities. They are given horrible food to eat. The rice that is provided to the refugees in the special refugee camps are of very bad quality and the refugees have protested many times by fasting to highlight the bad food and living conditions in the special refugee camps. They are not allowed to talk leisurely to friends and relatives who come to visit them. They are severely harassed by the state "Q" branch police which is always on the look out to arrest somebody under the charge of militancy.

The inmates of special refugee camps are forced to confess to being militants or falsely accuse somebody else of being a militant just to satisfy the repressive measures of the "Q" branch police. Whenever a refugee from the special refugee camp is taken to a hospital he/she is heavily chained and transported with policemen armed with heavy fire-arms. Even in the hospitals the refugees are kept bound in chains. There has been an instance when a refugee without limbs had both his arms tied to his body while being taken to the hospital.

The police arbitrarily select refugees in the special camps for emigration from India to other countries (apart from Sri Lanka). This selection is done in a very arbitrary and discriminatory manner leading to severe corruption. If an inmate speaks out for his rights in the special refugee camps he or she can be sure of not being allowed out of India for a long time. Even those who get permission from the police to leave India are harassed by the police in the most crudest manner. For example, the cops scribble in the passports ( of the refugees in special camps) with notations such as "LTTE" or "LTTE militant" (when the refugee has never been proved to be a militant or faced prosecution).

Such crude harassment causes severe legal problems and even deportation of some refugees who get refugee status in other foreign countries. Thus the special refugee camps virtually function as "concentration camps" where the Tamil refugees are imprisoned in squalor on the 'suspicion' of being a Tamil militant without any rights, trial or humane treatment.

The conditions in the 160 "open " refugee camps (apart from the 6 special refugee camps) are no better. Even though those in the "open" refugee camps are free to go about any where and seek a living, they are also victims of police corruption and oppression. The food grains provided to the Tamil refugees in the open camps are of very bad quality. Anybody who protests the bad food and degrading living conditions runs the risk of being branded as a militant and sent to the "special refugee camp". There are no toilets, no proper housing, no electricity and no educational facilities in any of these refugee camps. People are made to live in halls, regulated market-places, poultries and even cyclone shelters. There is no medical aid available to the Tamil refugees in any of the special or open refugee camps.

Extortion by the police is rampant in these "open" refugee camps. When any friend or relative visiting a refugee family gives any money, the police will come immediately demanding a cut or the entire amount from the hapless refugee who will end up in the refugee camp of the "special" variety if he does not pay up. There have been instances where even television sets given to the refugees have been taken away by the cops. The refugees are allowed only "one" electrical bulb connection which is a crude rule. The refugees are not even allowed to make proper electrical lighting in their dwellings which is imperative for children who may study or for the physical safety of the refugee family.

Tamil refugees are paid paltry sums as doles. The head of the family (male) gets Rs.200 (US$5) per month. In the event of the male head of the family being deceased, the female head will get Rs.200, otherwise, the mother will get only Rs.150 (US$4) per month. Children above 12 years will get Rs.150 per month. The first child below 12 years will get Rs.90 (US$2) per month, while the other children will get uniformly Rs.45 (US$1) each per month.

These amounts are totally insufficient to sustain the lives of the Tamil refugees in India. While the Tibetan refugees are treated well in India, Tamil refugees from Sri Lanka are made to suffer the most inhumane treatment and tortuous conditions because of the political animosity of the Indian state towards the Tamil militancy in Sri Lanka. The Indian state and central governments does not seem to realize that the ordinary hapless Tamil refugee cannot be victimized to settle scores with the Tamil militant movement in Sri Lanka. All the state sponsored oppression on the Tamil refugees fleeing Sri Lanka is justified in the name of Rajiv Gandhi's murder allegedly by Tamil militants.

Since India has not signed the international convention for refugees, the terrible plight of the Sri Lankan Tamil refugees in India is not brought to the scrutiny of the United Nations High Commission for Refugees and no other major human rights organisation has taken note of the suffering of the Tamils languishing in the "special camps" in India which are nothing but concentration camps.

Recently after the escalation of the war in Sri Lanka many Tamil refugees fleeing Sri Lanka have been stopped and turned back by the Indian navy. There have been reports of refugee boats capsizing and drowning several people who were fleeing the battlezone for relative safety in India. Many Tamil refugees were also detained by Indian authorities and sent back to their war torn homeland.

The plight of the Tamil refugees coming into India from Sri Lanka merits the special attention and help of the international community and human rights organizations. In the clamour over political debate over the future of Sri Lanka and the escalating civil war, the plight of ordinary Tamil civilian refugees and their ill treatment in India has been forgotten by everybody.

The recent financial aid of US $ 100 million given by the Indian Government to the Government of Sri Lanka is an example of misplaced concern. Instead, the Government of India should spend its money and human resources in promoting and protecting the human rights and basic needs of the Tamil refugees in India.

The Government of India should be more concerned about the deplorable state of misery, exploitation, squalor and oppression suffered by Tamil refugees in Indian "special" concentration camps and open camps rather than financially helping the Sri Lankan Government which was responsible for the exodus of Tamil refugees to India and different parts of the world in the first place ever since 1950.

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