war, Tamil refugee flow to India drops
By M.R. Narayan Swamy
New Delhi, Jan 31 (IANS) As Sri Lankan troops sweep through
Tamil Tiger strongholds, Tamils seeking to flee the war-hit
island to India are finding the boat journey more and more
risky, leading to a sharp drop in their arrivals.
From 566 men, women and children who sailed to Tamil Nadu
in May 2008, the number fell to 155 in December. Until Jan
28 this year, only 111 Tamils had landed on Tamil Nadu's shores.
The numbers speak a story.
According to leading Sri Lankan activist S.C. Chandrahasan,
who has worked among the refugees in Tamil Nadu for years,
Tamils wanting to escape to India are finding it increasingly
difficult and dangerous.
For one, the army has captured from the Liberation Tigers
of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) the northwestern district of Mannar,
the traditional gateway to south India. Also, the navy now
dominates the strip of sea that divides Sri Lanka and Tamil
The boat journeys were probably never this difficult in the
past 25 years, Chadrahasan told IANS over telephone from Chennai.
Refugees who have made it to Tamil Nadu in recent days say
the normally tough sea voyage, which can take anything from
an hour to a few hours, is now more risky because naval patrols
are aplenty - night or day.
Indian naval patrol is also keeping an eye on Tamil Tiger
Most recent refugee arrivals are from Sri Lanka's north where
the war is now raging. They take up to three days to make
it from the interior to the coast, but only the lucky ones
find boats to take them across.
Many refugees reach Tamil Nadu starving because they are unable
to access food in the military-controlled coastal areas.
And although the boatmen are not charging more money despite
the added risks, they are hesitant to cross the sea because
naval patrols are now aplenty.
"If a boat is intercepted, it gets seized and the boatmen
get into serious trouble," said an official in Tamil
Nadu who has spoken to the refugees.
The official quoted one refugee as saying: "Given the
chance, the Tamils caught up in the war zone would make it
to India. They are not happy to be in conflict areas but are
equally not keen to go over to government areas due to uncertainties
Tamil Nadu is home to tens of thousands of Sri Lankan Tamil
refugees who have sailed to India ever since anti-Tamil riots
swept the island in 1983.
Most illegal boat rides take place at night, the vessels anchored
by veteran boatmen who know every bit of the sea.
Once they are in India, the refugees register themselves with
the Tamil Nadu government, undergo routine security checks
and then get assigned to any of the 117 refugee camps in the
state - unless they can live on their own.
From 566 refugees who made it to India in May 2008, the number
dropped to 228 in June. It climbed to 261 in July, before
again falling to 155 in August.
The number rose in September to 265 before declining to 199
in October, 168 in November and to 155 in December 2008.
On most months, male refugees have exceeded female refugees.
But in December, there were 89 females to 66 males. The fleeing
Tamils also include children including toddlers.
Tamil Nadu received a total of 23,168 Tamil refugees from
January 2006, when the influx started to pick up following
renewed fighting, to January 2009.
(M.R. Narayan Swamy can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org)
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