Tamil Nadu To Skip Delhi Meeting On SL Refugees

The Tamil Nadu government will not participate in the inter-ministerial meeting convened by the external affair ministry to discuss voluntary repatriation of Sri Lankan Tamil refugees to the island nation on Friday, Indian government sources told media.

It has been learned that both public department and commissionerate of rehabilitation, which is in charge of Lankan refugees, had not deputed any official to attend the meeting even by Thursday.

The meeting is being attended by joint secretary-level officials of various departments in Indian government - home, finance and external affairs. Officials from Sri Lanka and UNHCR are also expected to participate in the meeting for which the Centre had asked Tamil Nadu to send a representative.

Calling the meeting "premature", Chief Minister O Panneerselvam on Wednesday wrote to Prime Minister Narendra Modi saying the situation was not conducive in the island nation for the refugees to return. Though the change of guard in Colombo has raised expectations of reconciliation, there are apprehensions owing to the presence of military in Tamil areas, he said. However, refugee leaders in many camps in TN have indicated that they are not averse to repatriation, but want the Lankan government to ensure their safety, education and job opportunities.

"The repatriation of refugees comes under the purview of the central government. We are only expressing our concerns to the Centre," a senior official from Tamil Nadu told Times of India.

The inter-ministerial meeting is a follow-up to the recent meeting between external affairs minister Sushma Swaraj and Lankan foreign affairs minister Mangala Samaraweera in New Delhi. Officials in the external affairs ministry also said there was no confirmation from the state on its participation till Thursday evening.

Around 304,000 refugees landed in Tamil Nadu in four phases after the ethnic war broke out in the island nation in 1983. No refugee has come to India since 2013. While 212,000 refugees have returned to their native land with the support of government and UNHCR, there are about 102,000 people still in the state, including 64,924 persons in various refugee camps.
(with inputs from Times of India)

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