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Time not right for repatriating Tamil refugees: Panneerselvam

2015 Jan 29

Tamil Nadu Chief Minister O. Panneerselvam Wednesday said discussions on voluntary repatriation of Sri Lankan Tamil refugees should be deferred as it is premature to deliberate the matter now.

In a letter to Prime Minister Narendra Modi, the text of which was released to the media here, Panneerselvam said: "The process of voluntary repatriation could be considered only after concrete and credible measures are taken by the Sri Lankan government and the Sri Lankan refugees in Tamil Nadu are given adequate verifiable assurances and gain the requisite confidence to return to their native land."

"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.

Panneerselvam was responding to a letter from the ministry of external affairs to the state government inviting a senior officer to attend an inter-ministerial meeting Jan 30 on voluntary repatriation of Lankan Tamil refugees.

Pointing out that Lankan Tamil refugees can go back on their own even now, Panneerselvam termed the proposed meeting an exercise to encourage them to leave for their homeland.

Panneerselvam said presently there are 102,055 refugees belonging to 34,524 families in Tamil Nadu of whom 64,924 belonging to 19,625 families are in 107 refugee camps.

"Further, I would like to place on record that the conditions in the Northern and Eastern provinces of Sri Lanka are still not conducive for the refugees to return to their native land," he said.

While recent political developments in Lanka are a cause for hope and have raised expectations of reconciliation there are still apprehensions about the presence of the Sri Lankan Army in Tamil areas, Panneerselvam said.

"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.

Credible and specific reconciliation measures must be undertaken which alone can create adequate confidence amongst the Sri Lankan Tamil refugees to return to their native land.

"The autonomy and democratic rights of the minority Tamil population in the country must be fully protected and they should not be subjected to further persecution and humiliation nor their second class citizenship status perpetuated," Panneerselvam said.

"Only after such measures are taken and confidence restored, will the refugees be able to even countenance any possible voluntary repatriation," he said.

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