Sri Lanka looking to pass voting right to Tamil refugees

Sri Lankan refugees residing in India may vote in upcoming election for first time in 30 years

Photo by: Reuters
Photo by: Reuters

Updated Jul 28, 2015

If a special parliamentary bill is passed in the Sri Lankan parliament, over 50,000 Sri Lankan Tamil refugees living in India will be able to vote in the upcoming election.

An official from Sri Lanka’s Electoral Commission has said that overseas voting right for the Tamil could be possible if the Sri Lankan government and Indian officials could facilitate the safe  and legal environment to do so.

“Many other countries have their expatriates voting, from their current location. Sri Lanka can also take that route,” said Election Commissioner M. M. Mohamed.

If the bill is passed, it would be the first time in over 30 years for Sri Lankan refugees get a right to vote since they began leaving the island in 1983 following the start of civil war in Sri Lanka’s north and east

Sri Lanka’s current law does not bind the right of vote for Tamil refugees, and their names are not included in the voter’s registry in the Elections Department, but officials claim a minor amendment will give the right of vote by law.

There are over 90,000 Sri Lankans seeking refuge in India, mostly in the Tamil Nadu state but also in various other provinces like Kerela and Andra Pradesh.

Most of the refugees live in camps and continue to be identified as citizens of Sri Lanka as they have not been neutralised by the Indian state.

“It was a humanitarian gesture to accommodate them when they reached India. They remain Sri Lankan,” a diplomat from the Indian High Commission in Colombo told Anadolu Agency of Turkey.

The Indian government attempted to deport the refugees back to Sri Lanka following the easing of the 27-year-long civil conflict in 2003 and 2004, and then again in 2012 after it had come to an end.

The United Nations Human Rights Commission overruled such a policy and instead called for voluntary repatriation and most of the refugees preferred to reside in India in fear of prosecution and economic concerns if they return to Sri Lanka.

The Sri Lankan civil conflict began in 1983 with the insurgency of the Tamil Tigers against government forces in the pursuit of creating an independent Tamil state in the north of the Island, the 27-year-long conflict came to and in 2009 with the victory of the Sri Lankan military.

TRTWorld and agencies