British Asia News Network
Columbo: High Commissioner to India discusses voluntary repatriation and relief package for returnees
Austin Fernando, a veteran of the Sri Lankan bureaucracy, at the age of 76 years is perhaps the oldest to hold the post of High Commissioner to India. His visit to Chennai aimed to obtain first-hand knowledge of the situation concerning the Tamil refugees, he said that “Sri Lanka needs them. We want them to return”.
What bought to Chennai?
He told the press that they came to Chennai because “We had a team of officials come here from Colombo, including Sumith Nakandala, Additional Secretary [Ministry of Foreign Affairs]. Officials from other departments were bought in, i.e Controller General of Immigration and Emigration and representatives from the Registrar General’s office. The refugees were interviewed who have two important problems. One being the ‘troubled document’, the passport. The other being their birth certificate. There are other issues to do with the Indian government like exit permits. But these are the issues the Sri Lankan government will look into to satisfy the needs of the people. Refugees were bought to the office of the Deputy High Commissioner meet officials with the aim to resolve their problems as much as possible.”
There were 100 people who were interviewed over two days while dealing with the cases of 211 persons. Each person who came spoke about his or her wife or husband or children.
The process of voluntary repatriation is not an easy [task]. When they [refugees] [get] repatriated, they wouldn’t want to get into difficult situations once again. They would prefer comfortable or convenient situations.
There are two ways of looking at voluntary repatriation. One, the people who send the refugees — in this case, Mr Krishnamoorthy [Deputy High Commissioner] and the Indian government, who want to send the people through voluntary repatriation. The other is those who receive the refugees. When they go back to Sri Lanka, there is a need to get these people resettled comfortably, conveniently and in an acceptable manner.
There is a basic package the government have concluded where the basics have to be attended to, like a house, land to live [on] and assistance for resettlement and rehabilitation.
When Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe came to New Delhi in October 2018, a decision was taken that the verification of people – 3,815 names [of the refugees] — should be undertaken by the Indian government. The returnee package has to be worked out and that is the job of the Sri Lankan government.