Should Tamil Eelam Refugees in India be Granted Indian Citizenship?

Should Tamil Eelam Refugees in India be Granted Indian Citizenship?
Most of the Tamil Eelam refugees in India live in refugee camps. Photo: Courtesy EC/ECHO Arjun Claire.


Malene Solheim

Sri Lanka and Human Rights Researcher, 

Global Human Rights Defense.

During a meeting last week, members of the government of the southern Indian state of Tamil Nadu discussed the possibility of allowing Tamil Eelam refugees to obtain Indian citizenship. The topic has been assessed on multiple occasions before, and now a survey is being planned to provide an overview of how many Tamil Eelams in India wish to obtain Indian citizenship (The Hindu, 2022). The aim is to obtain a more factually based understanding of the current situation to make citizenship for the refugees more comprehensible. 

Today it is estimated that around 90,000 Tamil Eelams are living as stateless refugees in India, predominantly in the state of Tamil Nadu (Tamil Guardian, 2021). Most refugees ended up in India during and after the decade long civil war between the central Sri Lankan government and the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam. The war ended in 2009 which means that some refugees have settled in India for almost twenty years.

Tamil Eelam refugees living in India today live under very challenging circumstances. Most Tamil refugees have formed in refugee camps. Those almost 35 000 refugees who live outside the camps are required to regularly report to the police (Tamil Guardian, 2021). 

According to human rights, all persons have the right to have a nationality (Uddin, 2015). Those who are deprived of this right are deemed stateless. Stateless persons are in great danger of further human rights abuses as they are not protected by a state (Ibid.). As the hope for independence in the Tamil region in Sri Lanka is still far fetched, their most realistic alternative option might perhaps be to obtain Indian citizenship. 

Sources and further reading:

News articles:

Survey planned to ascertain how many Sri Lankan Tamils want Indian citizenship, 4 January 2022, 

More than 90,000 Eelam Tamil refugees stateless in India, 12 February 2021, 

Book Chapter:

Uddin, Nasir (2015). State of Stateless People: The Plight of Rohingya Refugees in Bangladesh in The Human Right to Citizenship: A Slippery Concept.