With no means to survive, desperate Sri Lankans are risking their lives to enter India
Several Sri Lankans have escaped the crisis-hit country in the last few weeks and fled to Tamil Nadu, which has caused an uproar in the southern Indian state. Sri Lanka is witnessing an unprecedented economic crisis. A mounting international debt, a decline in tourism following the coronavirus outbreak, a decrease in the value of the Sri Lankan currency, an unfavorable decision to switch to organic farming, and a currency deficit that makes it difficult even to buy essentials– all these have contributed to the island country reaching this inflection point. Rice, for instance, is priced up to Rs (Sri Lankan) 500/kg, and a kilogram of sugar is selling at around Rs 290. The skyrocketing inflation has brought people out on the streets in despair.
In one such incident last month, some Sri Lankans were trying to enter Tamil Nadu illegally and were stranded mid-sea. They were located by a hovercraft near Rameswaram. After their interrogation, they were surrendered to the Coastal Security Group for further legal formalities. The Sri Lankans fleeing the country and desperately trying to migrate to India are bereft of resources and hope. Some paid up to Rs 50,000 to the boatmen and travelled in a plastic boat, only to be dropped near Rameswaram.
During interrogation, one of the refugee families said people in their village could not afford milk, which was selling at Rs (Sri Lankan) 1500 per tin. The prices of essentials and fuel have gone through the roof, forcing people to take drastic steps. Some of these refugees have been booked under relevant provisions of The Foreigners Act and The Passports Act. Currently, in judicial custody, these refugees have no source of income back home due to the loss of jobs. Historically, such desperately needy migrants fall prey to extortion and manipulation by illegal immigration rackets and land in fatal or near-fatal situations.
Most Sri Lankan refugees would have been stranded if not found by the coast guard and taken to the camps. The refugee camps in Tamil Nadu, especially those with Sri Lankan refugees, are now open prisons overcrowded with multiple families jostling for space.
And refugees who do manage to find a source of employment as daily wage labourers are under the constant watch of the state intelligence unit. In humanitarian terms, they are migrants searching for a means to survive. Unfortunately, they are often treated as terrorists or radical subjects who pose a threat to the country.