Four days ago, Union Home Minister Rajnath Singh told a human rights seminar that the Rohingya fleeing Myanmar were not refugees but illegal immigrants who would be deported. Taking a different stand at the same gathering, National Human Rights Commission chairman Justice (retd) H L Dattu said the Rohingya issue was being taken up by the panel on humanitarian grounds.
While it does not share the NHRC view on the Rohingya, the government has had a different approach in the case of Sri Lankan Tamil and Tibet refugees. Data from the Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) show that Sri Lankan Tamils and Tibetan refugees were provided aid and assistance on grounds of “persecution”.
According to MHA, there are nearly 1.1 lakh Tibetan refugees residing in 45 settlements and outside in states across the country. Similarly, a total of 1,02,055 refugees, belonging to 34,524 Sr Lankan Tamil families, were living in 107 refugee camps. More than Rs 150 crore was paid to Sri Lankan Tamil refugees while Rs 18 crore was provided to Tibet refugees since 2014 by the Centre, the records show.
Other than Sri Lankan and Tibet refugees, the MHA last year sanctioned Rs 2,000 crore for 36,000 families from Pakistan-occupied Kashmir (PoK) who migrated to J&K in 1947, 1965 and 1971. Earlier, refugees from PoK were given financial assistance of Rs 49 crore in 2008-09 by the then UPA government, MHA data show.
Sri Lankan Tamils started coming to India in 1983 following their persecution in Sri Lanka. As per estimates, at least 1.34 lakh Sri Lankan Tamils arrived in India between 1983 and 1987. After former Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi’s assassination by the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) in 1991, an estimated 54,000 refugees were repatriated to Sri Lanka.
According to the MHA, actual expenditure on relief for Sri Lankan Tamils staying in camps in Tamil Nadu and Odisha was Rs 59.96 crore in 2014-15, Rs 48.80 crore in 2015-16 and Rs 45 crore in 2016-17. Budget estimates for refugees from Sri Lanka was Rs 17.32 crore in 2007-08 which was increased to Rs 50 crore in 2016-17.
Officials said the Tamil Nadu government provides Rs 1,000 every month to the head of a Sri Lankan Tamil refugee family, Rs 750 to each adult, and Rs 400 to each child. Each refugee family gets 20 kg of rice every month, and has ration cards to purchase from the public distribution system (PDS).
Refugee children are eligible to study free up to Class 12, and receive benefits due to Indian students including free textbooks, uniform, bicycles, mid-day meals, bus passes and laptops. They are also provided relief assistance that include cash doles, feeding charges, medical assistance, infrastructure facilities at the camps including internal roads, electricity and drinking water, vehicles and petrol, salaries for the staff manning the camps.
For Tibet refugees, who started arriving in India after the Dalai Lama escaped to India in 1959, the Centre did not jot set up camps but also took special care to retain their separate ethnic and cultural identity. According to MHA estimates, a fund of Rs 8 crore was paid to Central Tibetan Relief Committee (CTRC) for administrative and welfare expenses of settlement offices of Tibetan refugees in 2015-16. A similar amount of Rs 8 crore was released by the MHA in 2016-17 besides paying Rs 19 lakh to Uttarakhand government in 2013-15 for construction of housing units for the refugees in Dehradun.
Under the Tibet rehabilitation policy, they have been provided agricultural land on lease basis by the state governments concerned. Handicraft centres were set up at Dalhousie, Dharamsala, Shimla and Kullu (Himachal Pradesh), Darjeeling (West Bengal), Rajpur (Uttarakhand).
State governments have been advised to extend the benefits of their schemes and central-sponsored schemes.