Responding to the announcement of welfare benefits for Eelam Tamil refugees by Tamil Nadu’s chief minister M.K. Stalin, Sri Lankan minister Namal Rajapaksa claimed that the Rajapaksa administration welcomed back Tamil refugees whilst omitting ongoing accounts of torture.
Those who have returned and who require assistance have been provided with houses & livelihoods. Pres @GotabayaR & PM @PresRajapaksa will ensure all refugees who return back are safe in their homeland & can restart their lives. 2/2
— Namal Rajapaksa (@RajapaksaNamal) August 28, 2021
Earlier this year, the British Upper Tribunal ruled recognised the threat of torture Tamil asylum seekers faced upon return to Sri Lanka. The court further that e "authoritarian and paranoid" Sri Lankan government monitors the activities of the Tamils diaspora and “drew no material distinction between the violent means of the LTTE and non-violent political advocacy”.
According to the International Truth and Justice Project, there have been 178 documented credible cases of torture from 2015-2018, excluding 22 individuals abroad who reported torture following the UN special investigation. Since Gotabaya Rajapaksa came to power in late 2019, at least 5 cases have been documented abroad of abduction, torture and sexual violence of Tamils. The ITJP notes, "this likely represents the tip of the iceberg".
The ITJP details that:
In one case, the independent medico-legal report corroborates recent torture and rape and maps 59 cigarette burns on the victim’s body including her upper thighs and genital area. The victim attempted suicide three times in Sri Lanka and now in the UK has to be locked in her room at night to prevent her from accessing kitchen knives or tablets to try again.
பல கட்ட போராட்டங்களை முன்னெடுத்து பலனிக்காத நிலையில் திருச்சி சிறப்பு முகாமிலிருக்கும் 15க்கும் மேற்பட்ட இலங்கை தமிழர்கள் அளவுக்கு அதிகமான தூக்க மாத்திரைகளை சாப்பிட்டும், வயிற்றைக் கிழித்துக்கொண்டும் தற்கொலை முயற்சி (thread) pic.twitter.com/QR9huJMADA
— Sonia Arunkumar (@rajakumaari) August 18, 2021
Stalin’s announcement follows weeks of protest by Eelam Tamil refugees who have demanded to be released from designated camps. Earlier this month several refugees attempted suicide in a special camp in Trichy Central Jail following the rejection of their demand for the release.
Some of the detainees consumed large amounts of sleeping pills while others slit themselves in the stomach in an attempt to commit suicide.
Stalin’s programme designates 3.17 billion Indian rupees (£3.1 million) to improve the welfare of these refugees and includes renovating existing settlements, increasing the provisions of essential goods, and offering scholarships for students pursuing a degree in engineering and other skill development programmes.
Whilst a welcome development, there remains in India over 90,000 Eelam Tamil refugees. India’s Ministry of State for Home Affairs reports that there are 58,843 Eelam Tamil refugees incarcerated in 108 state-run camps across Tamil Nadu. A further 34,135 Eelam Tamil refugees are staying as “non-camp” refugees in Tamil Nadu where they are required to report to the police on a regular basis and 54 Eelam Tamil refugees are staying in a refugee camp at Malkangiri, Odisha.
Eelam Tamils have been denied citizenship under the controversial Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA) which was passed in 2019 with the support of all 11 All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (AIADMK) members in the Rajya Sabha. Recently the central government told the Madras High Court that, “We can’t provide citizenship for Sri Lankan refugees who entered India illegally and don’t possess any documents,” and that the centre cannot make decisions on an “emotional basis.”
Commenting on conditions in the camps, K.Manikkavasagam (name changed on request), an inmate of Madapam camp near Rameswaram, Told HuffPost India:
“In the camps, we live in the shadow of fear and insecurity. We are not allowed to move around in town. There are restrictions on talking to the media. All our basic rights have been curtailed. Three or four decades in a camp means you are incapable of doing anything worthwhile in life. We are always discriminated.”