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On the right track

Supporting Sri Lankan refugees to return home after 26 years of civil war. Tens of thousands of Sri Lankan refugees living in temporary refugee camps in India face an uncertain future. Though the Sri Lankan civil war ended seven years ago, most have not returned home.

Janet Cousens/Act for Peace Image Frame
While the Indian government provides basic services, such as shelter and access to schools and hospitals, refugees still struggle to survive. Many feel their lives were stolen and have lost hope. Thousands long to go back home, but have real concerns about their ability to survive once there. After more than 20 years in exile, Sri Lanka is like a foreign land.

Act for Peace staff member James Thomson has been working on a long-term solution to help refugees in India find answers to questions they have about what life will be like back in Sri Lanka, and how to overcome the obstacles they will face on their journey home.

Barriers to return

Sri Lankan Tamils began fleeing to India in 1983 when civil war erupted between the Sri Lankan government and the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam. The conflict is now ended, but ethnic tensions still simmer in the background and refugees worry about their safety and security back home. On top of that, people can’t be sure whether their house is still standing and what opportunities exist for them to make a living and support their family. Some aren’t in possession of the documentation needed to return; and others have children, many adults themselves, who know little of life back in Sri Lanka.

Without support, these barriers can feel overwhelming and impossible to overcome. A simple thing like obtaining citizenship documents isn’t easy when you’re trapped in a camp, unable to prove your identity. That’s why James has been working tirelessly with our local partner – a refugee-run organisation – to help refugees help themselves. One innovative solution is the Reintegration Railway. It supports refugees to find answers to the questions they have about access to housing, jobs and education back in Sri Lanka.

In a workshop run by refugees themselves, people map out the obstacles on a ‘railway track’, with each sleeper representing an action they’ll need to take to get home. Together, refugees discuss each step they’ll need to take, such as arranging temporary shelter, finding work and applying for a loan, as well as the opportunities that lie ahead if they go back.

On the right track

By collectively mapping out each step of the way, their journey home seems far less daunting. The railway exercise is not only a way for refugees to leave the limitations of life in the camps behind, but is designed to help people take control of their future. James is proud of the results, “The most rewarding thing to see is that people suddenly see they have a future and start spontaneously helping each other to properly prepare. It’s hope in action and that’s a powerful motivator!” 

By James Thomson - Act for Peace’s Associate Director of Policy and Advocacy. James has been leading advocacy efforts to find a solution for the 100,000 Sri Lankan refugees living in India


More ways to take action

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