The British government has confirmed that at least 89 Eelam Tamils, including 20 children, are amongst those being held at the US Naval base on the occupied island of Diego Garcia, with questions still to be answered on where they may be transferred to next.
The Asia Pacific Refugee Rights Network (APRRN) tweeted that it had received confirmation that the Tamils had been held at the base since 3 October 2021. A boat was reportedly carrying the Eelam Tamils, who had fled from refugee camps in Madurai and Thiruchirapally in India, and had to be rescued at sea.
“The UK hasn’t yet replied to our letter asking for assurances that it will apply the Refugee Convention, that the group will be moved to the UK so that the children can be cared for, and all can enjoy their rights as refugees,” said the APRRN. “The UK does not have a good record in these cases.”
The Tamil families have reportedly been given forms to complete, but it remains unclear whether they have received access to legal advice.
“The UK has been found to be in breach of international law for keeping hold of the Chagos Achipelago over the claims of the Mauritius,” APRRN added. “Can the UK now confirm it will not breach international law in how it treats refugees on the archipelago?”
File photograph: Eelam refugees in Tamil Nadu, 2012. Courtesy EC/ECHO Arjun Claire
The latest records by the Indian government document that there are more than 90,000 Eelam Tamil refugees who are currently in India. Tens of thousands of them remain in camps across Tamil Nadu and have felt the brunt of the coronavirus pandemic and the lockdown that followed. Many have lost their means to earn a daily wage and the cramped conditions across the camps increase the risk of virus transmission.
Many refugees fled Sri Lanka and have been living in Tamil Nadu for about three decades. Despite this, the Indian government refuses to grant them citizenship. While the controversial Citizenship Amendment Act passed in 2019, Eelam Tamils were excluded from the amendment, thus keeping them in a state of limbo. Indian state forces are known to harass and intimidate and subject the community to constant surveillance.