Cablegate: Sri Lankan Refugees Still Arriving, Post Recommends Prm

DE RUEHCG #0387/01 3290813
R 240813Z NOV 08





E.O. 12958: N/A


1. (U) This is an action request. See paragraphs 12 and 13.

2. (SBU) Summary: The recent escalation of Sri Lanka's war against
the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam has not resulted in the
expected flood of new refugees to India. Nonetheless, refugees
continue to arrive at a steady, but modest pace. Recent visitors to
the refugee camps confirm post's January 2008 assessment that at
least some camps suffer deficiencies, particularly in terms of water
and sanitation. Attention to the plight of Sri Lankan Tamils
remains extremely high in Tamil Nadu. Mission India strongly
recommends that PRM allocate FY09 assistance funds for Sri Lankan
refugees in Tamil Nadu. Doing so will encourage India to continue
its recent openness to assistance and inquiries about this refugee
community, as well as serve our common counter-terrorism goal of
denying the Tamil Tigers potential recruits. End summary.

Modest refugee flow continues, but no flood

3. (U) The Organization for Eelam Refugees Rehabilitation (OfERR),
which compiles the most reliable figures for Sri Lankan refugee
arrivals, told post that 2,394 refugees arrived in Tamil Nadu from
January 1 through October 31, 2008. These arrivals continue at a
steady, but modest pace. OfERR's monthly breakdown of 2008 arrivals

January 145
February 159
March 233
April 233
May 556
June 228
July 261
August 115
September 265
October 199

4. (SBU) By historical standards, the current refugee flow is
modest. For example, more than 10,000 refugees arrived in a period
of just three months in 2006. The current rate of arrivals runs
counter to recent fears that the intensification of the conflict in
northern Sri Lanka would lead to a flood of refugees to India. Our
interlocutors attribute the failure of the flood to materialize to a
variety of factors. Many tell us that both the Sri Lankan Navy and
the Tamil Tigers prevent potential refugees from crossing to India.
On the Indian side, the Coast Guard has stepped up its patrols in
coastal waters. There are also reports that law enforcement
authorities are more regularly punishing boat operators for
transporting refugees, providing a significant deterrent to the
refugee traffic.

Conditions concern visiting bishops; state welcomes help

5. (SBU) With more than 73,000 Sri Lankan refugees spread out over
115 camps throughout Tamil Nadu (which is approximately the size of
Greece), it is difficult to generalize about their living
conditions. As we saw first-hand in January 2008, conditions can
vary quite dramatically from camp to camp but it is evident that at
least some camps suffer substantial water and sanitation
deficiencies (ref C).

6. (SBU) After visiting six refugee camps in October 2008,
representatives of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB)
confirmed our January 2008 assessment. They expressed grave
concerns about water and sanitation, as well as the quality of the
housing for refugees. Of the six camps the bishops visited, one was
Naranammalpuram camp in Tirunelveli district which a November 19
newspaper article described as "unhygienic," adding that "basic
sanitation is a distant reality in the camp." The article noted
that the camp's 830 residents share just 13 toilets and that "the
appalling state of the toilets has increased open defecation in the

7. (SBU) The USCCB delegation reported the findings of their visit
to the six camps to Consulate staff and a mid-level official from
the Commissionerate of Rehabilitation, which oversees the state's
efforts to assist Sri Lankan refugees. The official acknowledged
that despite the state's efforts to provide for the refugees, more
could be done to improve the basic facilities available to them. He
emphasized the central government's policy that the refugee
situation is "temporary" (despite the population having been in
India for more than twenty years) limits the state government's
ability to improve conditions at the camps. In light of this
limitation and the substantial unmet needs in the camps, the

CHENNAI 00000387 002 OF 002

official said the state would welcome further U.S. government
assistance to improve conditions.

Tamil Nadu eyes trained firmly on Sri Lanka

8. (SBU) The Sri Lankan Army's continued offensive north into the
Tamil Tigers' stronghold, and the associated casualties and
displacement of Sri Lankan Tamil civilians, have caused serious
concern in Tamil Nadu. Although the political crisis created by the
threatened resignations of Tamil Nadu's Members of Parliament has
passed (refs A and B), public attention remains fixed on events in
the island nation. Interlocutors regularly mention the inflammatory
pro-Tamil Tiger DVD that has been circulating around Tamil Nadu (ref
b) with its recurring loop of images of Sri Lankan planes bombing
villages and bloodied women and children.

9. (SBU) The local media closely chronicles the Sri Lankan Army's
offensives, as well as the almost daily stream of public events
throughout Tamil Nadu that highlight the state's continued support
for the Sri Lankan Tamils' cause. Political and civil society
leaders are engaged, but more significant is the steady drumbeat of
support from the influential Tamil film industry. The industry's
biggest stars have held high-profile hunger strikes and cancelled
celebrations to express their solidarity with the Sri Lankan Tamils.
The movie industry's involvement keeps public attention fixated on
the plight of Sri Lankan Tamils.

Attention on Sri Lanka stokes fears
of increased radicalization of refugees

10. (SBU) Contacts that interact regularly with the refugees worry
that news of the intensified hostilities in Sri Lanka could fuel
sympathy for the Tamil Tigers. SC Chandrahasan, OfERR's founder and
a refugee himself, said the refugees worry about the effects of Sri
Lanka's military offensives into the Tiger's northern stronghold.
He mentioned some refugees heeded the call by Tamil Nadu's political
parties to stage hunger strikes to protest the war, which was
notable as the refugees generally steer clear of political

11. (SBU) An ardent opponent of the Tamil Tigers, Chandrahasan
expressed concern that continued images of Tamil casualties of Sri
Lanka's war of "Sinhala chauvinism" may radicalize some refugees --
especially young people -- making them susceptible to recruitment by
the Tigers. (Note: Chandrahasan is a pacifist committed to keeping
the refugee community free of Tamil Tiger influence. Although he
ultimately expressed optimism that the refugees will continue to
steer clear of radicalism, he seemed more concerned about it than at
any point in the past decade. End note.) Representatives of
Catholic Relief Services (CRS) were more pessimistic. They told us
that publicity over the recent escalation in violence in Sri Lanka,
coupled with poor living conditions at some camps, have made many
young refugees potential targets for recruitment by the Tamil

Action request: Post recommends FY09 PRM
funding for Sri Lankan refugees in Tamil Nadu

12. (SBU) Mission India strongly recommends that PRM allocate FY09
assistance funds for Sri Lankan refugees in Tamil Nadu. Doing so
will leverage the momentum built by PRM's FY08 USD 875,000 project,
the first-ever on behalf of this refugee population. India's
openness to U.S. assistance in this area was hard-won: for years it
would not even permit U.S. government visitors to the camps and it
still refuses to allow visits by the United Natins High
Commissioner for Refugees (UNCHR). The ocal government officials
critical to successfulimplementation are entrepreneurial,
especially b Indian bureaucratic standards, and eager for ourassistance.

13. (SBU) Funding in FY09, howevermodest, will send the right
signal: that we car about this vulnerable refugee population,
whichis all the more important at a time when attention to the
plight of Sri Lankan Tamils is at a decades-long high here in Tamil
Nadu. Continued funding will also advance key U.S.-India
counter-terrorism goals of combating the Liberation Tigers of Tamil
Eelam, which both nations long ago designated as a terrorist
organization. By working to improve conditions in the camps, we
will help reduce the chances of the Tamil Tigers successfully
recruiting Sri Lankan refugees as future terrorists.

14. (U) This cable was coordinated with Embassy New Delhi.


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