Mohan*, a Jaffna shop owner, never thought he would be forced to leave the country one day with his family to neighbouring India for survival–a decision he did not consider even during the height of the war.
These days, he is planning his trip to India via fishing boat and has been busy with the arrangements secretly. He has been told by ‘middlemen’ to be ready for the trip early next month as they are waiting for more people to join the trip of twenty people in a fishing vessel, in their passage from Mannar to Rameswaram.
“Having run a profitable business in Jaffna with income ranging from Rs. 5,000 to Rs. 15,000 a day, nowadays we can not generate even a Rs. 1000 a day. We cannot go on like this,” said Mohan* who gave a different name, fearing consequences from security authorities.
Mohan* is among dozens of northern people who are desperate to leave the country as economic refugees since the cost of living coupled with skyrocketing inflation and a shortage of essential items made it increasingly difficult for daily survival.
At least 75 Sri Lankans reached Indian shores last month alone. Most of them are returnees from India. They had been displaced in India during the war period since the 1980′s.
More than 100,000 Sri Lankan refugees are still living in temporary camps and rented homes across Tamil Nadu even after 13 years had passed since the end of the separatist war.
According to the progress report of 2020 and development programmes for 2021 issued by the Rural Housing and Construction & Building Materials Industries Promotion State Ministry, from 2011 up to September 30, 2020, 9,327 refugees from 3,656 families had returned to Sri Lanka.
Those who returned in the past are thinking of going back to Tamil Nadu as a shortage and high prices of essential items have turned their lives into an existential struggle in recent months.
A. Kalasothi, a 55-year-old mother of a 28-year-old girl who went to Tamil Nadu during the war and returned to Sri Lanka in 2015, in the state’s immigration programme in Punnalaikattuvan says; “Now we are engaged in a self-employment initiative of making neem flower papadam. Even if we did a small business in our country, we were living comfortably on the income generated from it. If we go to India for food we cannot live in a shelter in the camp and live like prisoners as second-class citizens.”
Meanwhile from Gurunagar in Jaffna two people who reached Thondi fisheries harbour in Tamil Nadu were arrested and are being detained at Puzal prisons.
The Sri Lanka Navy also stepped up patrolling activities in Northern waters in recent weeks to prevent people fleeing to Tamil Nadu via fishing boats.
On Friday night at 11.30 pm, the Sri Lanka Navy vessels intercepted a fishing boat four nautical miles from Kankesanthurai with 13 refugees on board.
They were fleeing to India. The arrested refugees, five men, three women and five female children were handed over to the Police for legal action
The Sunday times.