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The Rediff Special/ A Ganesh Nadar in Mandapam

'We walk without fear here'

July 04, 2006

As Sri Lanka heads for yet another civil war, Tamil refugees have begun fleeing the fighting and taking shelter in Tamil Nadu.

Special Correspondent A Ganesh Nadar traveled to Mandapam to speak to the refugees and find out what is going on in northern Sri Lanka.

The concluding segment of a four-part series.

The Organisation for Elam Refugees Rehabilitation has an office just outside the Mandapam relief camp in Ramanathapuram district.

Every morning, volunteers working for OFERR call up the four police stations on Rameswaram island -- Dhanushkodi, Rameswaram, Thangachimadam and Pamban -- to find out how many refugees have arrived. They then go across to provide them with breakfast and lunch. That is not all. The NGO fixes the wiring in refugee quarters. It has donated Sintex tanks to provide drinking water, provides each family with two bedsheets, helps put refugee children in school and makes arrangements for books.

The NGO works in all refugee camps in Tamil Nadu, and is headed by Chennai-based S C Chandrahasan, son of S J V Selvanayagam, a well-known Sri Lankan Tamil.

A board at the OFERR office in Mandapam shows that 21 families arrived on June 6, 2006. Of these, 34 were men, 27 women, 13 boys and 9 girls. 11 families arrived on June 7. The total number of refugees over the last month is supposedly 2,661. This data is regularly sent to the head office in Chennai.

All workers at this NGO are Tamils from Sri Lanka. R Gnanaganesh Rasiah is from Triconamalee. He has spent 15 years in Canada and comes here on a 6-month visa to help his people.

G Bala, one of OFERR's most active members, came from Mannar as a 13 year old in 1990. After graduating in mathematics, he did a course in computers and started a coaching centre for students here. He has 30 students in his class and charges them Rs 100 a month. Kavita, a Sri Lankan graduate, helps him conduct the classes.

R Potheran is a 40 year old from Triconamalee. There too, he used to work for the NGO on a monthly salary of Rs 13,500. His salary here has yet to be decided. He came here a month ago with his family of four.

Ganaganesh Rasiah says local Congress MLA Hasan Ali is very helpful. "The refugees come here agitated and full of fear. He speaks to them and calms them down. Here, even with half a stomach full, we can sleep in peace and walk without fear. We feel at home."

Apart from sewing classes, OFERR also offers computer courses. J Julio is a teacher at one of these classes. He hails from Pasayur in Sri Lanka and arrived here as a 13 year old in 1999. After studying at St Xavier's School in Tirunelveli, he completed Classes 11 and 12 at the camp school in Mandapam.

N Kandareuben is another volunteer, also from Yazhpanam (better known as Jaffna) in Sri Lanka. He came here as a 10 year old in 1990 with his family. After studying in Maanaamadurai from class 3 to 10, he did a year-long course in computers in Chennai. He recalls working as a tractor driver during his Class 12 holidays, for which he used to get a monthly salary of Rs 1,000 and Rs 100 per day when there was work. Here, he gets Rs 1,050 per month.

"This is social work," he says. His family is still in the Maanaamadurai camp. His father, who suffers from high blood pressure, is a temporary lorry driver. His elder brother is a tractor driver.

Driven from their country by violence, OFERR volunteers have found a job that keeps them busy. For now, they are happy they can do something for their compatriots. In that happiness, they forget their own sorrow.

Photograph: Prakash Singh/AFP/Getty Images

The Rediff Specials

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Number of User Comments: 1

Sub: Lankan refugees

Most of the volunteers are from Sri Lanka. I am wondering why a local Indian NGO not taking enough support measures (if what is stated ...

Posted by venkat rajan



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