09/28/2009, 00.00
INDIA – SRI LANKA
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The government of Tamil Nadu to offer citizenship to 100,000 Tamil refugees

by Nirmala Carvalho
The Indian State proportionately has the highest number of Tamil refugees from Sri Lanka, some 73,000 distributed in 115 camps and more than 30,000 living in government shelters. “Until now refugee status prevented more than 100,000 Tamils from entering the mainstream of society and fully participating in its development and progress,” bishop of Madurai said.
Mumbai (AsiaNews) – The government of Tamil Nadu wants to offer citizenship to about 100,000 Tamil refugees from Sri Lanka who have been living in the State for years, Chief Minister M Karunanidhi announced. He said he had already submitted a request to that effect to the central government in New Delhi.

For Mgr Peter Fernando, bishop of Madurai, Karunanidhi’s decision is “highly significant”. Speaking to AsiaNews, the prelate said, “until now refugee status prevented more than 100,000 Tamils from entering the mainstream of society and fully participating in its development and progress.”

Tamil Nadu is host to more than 73,000 Tamil refugees distributed among 115 camps; an additional 30,000 and more are housed in government-run shelters.

They fled their homeland to escape fighting between the Sri Lankan military and the Tamil Tigers and arrived in India where they have become a sort of foreign body inside Tamil Nadu society.

The offer made by the government of the Indian State comes at a time when the refugees’ situation is very uncertain.

The end of the 30-year conflict had raised hopes that people could quickly go home. However, that prospect is increasingly doubtful.

The Sri Lankan government has said that it is still unable to reintegrate the 250,000 refugees that live on island.

Monsignor Fernando is concerned by the number of Internally Displaced People (IDPs) who “continue to languish in camps in Sri Lanka.”

News coming out of the island nation on a daily basis indicates that the situation in the camps is becoming unbearable.

In one incident around 6 am last Saturday, the military opened fire on a group of refugees who were trying to leave the Cheddiku'lam interment camp without a permit. Six people were injured, including two women and three children.

Civil society groups have accused the Sri Lankan government of turning refugee camps into prisons.

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