October 26, 2018 / 10:27 AM / a month ago

Promised land and homes, Sri Lankan refugees to return from India

BANGKOK (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - Thousands of Sri Lankan refugees living in India are ready to return to their homeland decades after fleeing civil war, according to a rights group that said returnees will receive a plot of land and other assistance.

Nearly 4,000 of more than 62,000 refugees living in camps in the south Indian state of Tamil Nadu have registered to return in the coming months, said Ashok Xavier at the non-profit Organization for Eelam Refugees Rehabilitation.

Each family will receive a cash grant, livelihood assistance, a small plot of land, and a home, he said.

They will also get help acquiring documentation needed to claim these benefits and establish citizenship, he added

“For those who want to go back, it will be a safe, sustainable and voluntary return,” said Xavier.

“And it won’t be to another camp, but to their own home,” he said in Bangkok, on the sidelines of a refugee conference.

Thousands of people were killed and tens of thousands uprooted from their homes in a war that lasted nearly three decades. Most were Tamils, an ethnic and religious Hindu minority.

Many sought refuge in neighboring India, particularly in Tamil Nadu. The conflict ended in 2009.

Many of those who fled or were forced from their homes had their properties seized, according to rights groups.

Thousands of acres of land taken over during the war are still held by government forces, according to a report by Human Rights Watch released earlier this month.

Sri Lankan President Maithripala Sirisena has said that all civilian lands held by the state in the northern and eastern provinces would be released by Dec. 31.

This will encourage more refugees to return, Xavier said.

Refugees who have fled their countries to escape conflict and persecution accounted for more than 25 million of the 68.5 million people who were displaced as of the end of 2017, according to the U.N. refugee agency (UNHCR).

The UNHCR helped repatriate the first set of Sri Lankan refugees from India in 2011 by ferry, so they could carry more of their possessions with them.

About 12,000 refugees have since returned. Those who return in the coming months - also by ferry - will be helped by others who have already made the journey, said Xavier.

“Resettlement is a difficult and emotional process. But we hope to give other refugees the confidence to return,” he said.

Reporting by Rina Chandran @rinachandran. Editing by Jared Ferrie. Please credit the Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of Thomson Reuters, that covers humanitarian news, women's and LGBT+ rights, human trafficking, property rights, and climate change. Visit news.trust.org

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