Date: 08 Nov 2005
Sri Lanka’s long-running civil conflict prompted an estimated 80,000 people to seek refuge in India, but with a ceasefire in place, a growing number are returning to their homeland and rebuilding their lives.
At the age of 26, Pushparani Miranda has already lived a lifetime’s worth of turmoil.
When she was just 11-years-old, Pushparani and her family undertook a perilous journey from Sri Lanka’s northwest Mannar District to India to escape bloody fighting between Sri Lankan government forces and the rebel Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam.
"I remember being very frightened as we travelled by boat to India and I had no idea when I would be able to return home again," said Pushparani.
In fact, Pushparani spent the next 14 years ekeing out a living in a dusty refugee camp in India.
"In India I managed to attend school until the tenth grade but then I dropped out to get a job because life in the camp was expensive and we didn’t get enough rations to survive," she said.
However, in 2002, the Sri Lankan government and the LTTE rebels signed a ceasefire aimed at paving the way for a permanent end to a civil war that’s clamed more than 60,000 lives.
The truce brought newfound security and stability to the island and convinced many refugees like Pushparani to return home.
"After I returned a year ago, IOM provided materials to help me build a house and provided tools and supplies for my sister and I to set up our own candle-making business," said Pushparani.
"Now we sell candles to local churches and shops and we’re making enough money to support ourselves as well as my sister’s husband and three children," she added.
IOM helps returnees deal with immigration formalities in Sri Lanka and provides transport back to their hometown or village. Many returnees have been living overseas for decades, so they’re provided with orientation to help them adapt to life back home and given information about how to access government services.
Former refugees receive health examinations, temporary shelter and financial support for six months after they return. IOM also helps families place their children in schools.
Kali Muttu Shankar also spent 14 years living in a refugee camp in India before returning to Sri Lanka a year ago.
"I was sick and tired of living overseas and the peace process convinced me that I should return home, but when I got here I had no idea what to do," said Shankar.
The 33-year-old turned to IOM for help to reintegrate back into his community and establish a welding business. Today Shankar employs two workers and business is booming.
"I'm so glad I returned home because, unlike in India, here I have my independence and I can make decisions about my own future," he said.
"Without help from IOM, I would be working for someone else, but now I am my own boss with a good life in my own country."
Since 2004, IOM, with support from Australian AUSAID, has helped more than 10,000 former refugees like Pushparani and Shankar to rebuild their lives in Sri Lanka.