Sustainable Livelihood Approach to Sri Lankan Tamil Refugees in Tamil Nadu

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Maneesh P, Dr. A. Jayakodi, Dr.R.Saikumar, Dr.K.Rajesh Kumar, sk Yeer Mahammad


Sri Lankan Tamils fled to India with an intention to save their lives from the ethnic conflict and to seek refuge. The influx began in 1983 when the war between LTTE and the Sri Lankan army reached its peak. Hundreds of Tamil have died and many were deeply injured. India was their natural choice to seek shelter due to the linguistic affinity, geographical contiguity and cultural proximity. Upon arrival, the refugees were registered and shifted to a transit camp and thereafter transported to several government-run camps across the state. The refugees who are living in camps enjoy the benefits of welfare schemes such as free education, health care, monthly cash doles, infrastructure and pensions. The basic human rights of refugees were denied for the first time since their settlement in the camps and the government imposed strict control over refugees following the assassination of Rajeev Gandhi, the former Prime Minister of India. Their right to movement, education and employment were restricted and they were confined in the camps. After 25 years of settlement in the camps, the lives of refugees have changed but they remain as ‘alien’ or foreigner. They do not have the right to own property, access to the government jobs is denied and freedom of movement out of the district boundary is also restricted. They are still living in a deplorable condition in the camps where there are no proper housing, sanitation and health care facilities. Accessing employment is one of the prominent challenges in the host country because they are not allowed to be employed in the public sector. Most camps are overcrowded and individual privacy was non-existent. Thus, the camp condition is not conducive to rear livestock and the possibility of farming is ruled out due to the absence of land. A few refugees have movable properties like  car, auto-rickshaw and bike and a countable number of refugees possess shops and land which are either rented out or purchased by a third party for refugees. The Government has been providing free education without ensuring provision for employment in the public sector. Therefore educated people seek employment in the unorganised sector and remain as wage earners. They do not get employment throughout the period and the works available for them are very hardy which are not disposed to be done by local labourers. The Government dole of Rs. 1000 is not enough to meet basic needs and the problem of unemployment, confined life in the camp and lack of local acceptance has accelerated the problem of sustainable livelihood. The study intends to articulate the question of sustainable livelihood for Sri Lankan refugees in Tamil Nadu. The study is based on primary and secondary data. The primary data was collected from 50 refugees living in the Pethikuppan refugee camp in Thiruvallore district of Tamil Nadu. The livelihood framework of Department for International Development (DFID) was used to analyse the livelihood security of refugees.

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