After 40 years, Sri Lankan Tamil Refugees in India need durable solutions

23 July 2023|Amaya Valcárcel and Antony Arulraj

A woman with a child in Tamil Nadu, India. 40 years after the outbreak of conflict in Sri Lanka JRS continues to advocate for durable solutions for Tamil refugees.
A woman with a child in Tamil Nadu, India. (Jesuit Refugee Service)

23 July 2023 marks 40 years since the outbreak of civil war in Sri Lanka. Since 1983, when the war broke out in the country, the Tamil community escaped and sought refuge in India to ensure the safety of their children and women.  

More than 300,000 refugees settled in small refugee camps all over the state of Tamil Nadu, India. As a state that is not a signatory of the 1951 Geneva Convention or its Protocols, India has no special legal framework for refugees or asylum-seekers and treats them only as “illegal migrants”. Hence, Tamil refugees in the country have been stuck in limbo for around 40 years – despite their ethnic affinity with the host community. JRS has been accompanying them through income-generating programmes and access to education and livelihoods since the 1990s. 

“I came to India as a one-year-old child in 1990. I have been a refugee in India for the last 33 long years. The fact that my repeated appeals for Indian citizenship have not been considered makes me feel hopeless and helpless"
Mr. Vimal, 34 years old, Sri Lankan refugee in India.

Despite all the difficulties Tamil refugees are forced to face in India, most of them still prefer to stay in the country rather than return to Sri Lanka, where the conflict ended in May 2009. This is enough proof that local integration in the host country is the most preferred durable solution for them.  

Some encouraging legal developments have been seen in recent years, but much still needs to be done to ensure a durable solution for Tamil refugees.  

Read more about the necessary steps to be taken so that Tamil refugees in India are not forgotten. 

Download the full report here.

*name of fantasy to protect the identity of the person.