Helping Refugee Children Get Citizenship

The Tamil Nadu state of India is home to about 100,000 Sri Lankan Tamil refugees, including over 22,000 children born in India.  PWRDF, through our partner the Organization for Eelam Refugee Rehabilitation (OfERR), has helped over 1000 of these children to receive their Sri Lankan citizenship papers.

Many of the refugees have been in the camps for as long as 27 years, having fled ethnic violence in Sri Lanka over the years.  They have been living in India with the vision and hope of returning to their homeland one day.  With the end of war between the army of the Government of Sri Lanka and the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) in May 2009, that hope has become alive and preparation for the return is underway.
PWRDF is accompanying the return of the Tamil refugees through OfERR, an organization of refugees run by the refuges for the refugees.  OfERR has walked with the Tamil refugees for the last 27 years and is a natural leader in the return process.

A critical element of the return is ensuring that all refugee children born in India will have Sri Lankan citizenship papers or at least a Sri Lankan birth certificate, which is necessary to apply for the citizenship certificate, before they return to their homeland.

To apply for a Sri Lankan birth certificate, a refugee needs to have his or her Indian birth certificate, one of their parents’ birth certificates, their parents’ marriage certificate, refugee identity card and a letter from the Tahsildar, the local representative of the Tamil Nadu government.
Because of the chaos of fleeing during the ethnic violence, many of the refugees do not have their birth or marriage certificates.  There are also general problems including misspelled names on certificates or incorrect educational certificates that need to be changed.

OfERR has been engaged in ensuring that all refugees access and obtain the necessary civil and legal documentation while they are in India preparing for their return.  It has created extensive awareness among the refugees who are living in more than 100 camps scattered across 25 districts of Tamil Nadu.  Consequently, the refugees have become conscious of obtaining and correcting birth, marriage, educational and death certificates.

The majority of the refugee children born in India have already received their Indian birth certificates.  Documentation for Sri Lankan birth certificates is being carried out with the assistance of the Sri Lankan Deputy High Commission in Chennai (the capital city of Tamil Nadu) and the Commissionerate of Rehabilitation of the Government of Tamil Nadu.  The Sri Lankan government has waived fees and fines associated with such application.

Representatives from the High Commission and Commissionerate travel to the districts where the refugees can make application at the District Collector’s office on pre-announced dates.  This saves time and money for the refugees because they do not have to travel all the way to Chennai.

Over one thousand refugee children have obtained their Sri Lankan birth certificates so far and the process continues, as the refugees, now aware and conscious, keenly await visits by the officials to their district centres.

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