Life in Limbo

Ten years after the Sri Lankan civil war, many Tamil refugees in India are still unsure about their futures.

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Sarah Hoenicke


May 24, 2019

Jayadevi’s home in Puzhal camp is small, as are the homes of many Sri Lankan Tamil refugees across the south Indian state of Tamil Nadu. It measures 100 square feet and is constructed from cement roofing sheets.

Like many others of her generation, Jayadevi, 50, fled Sri Lanka under duress during the civil war. Her uncle’s son, a local priest, had gone to the temple but never returned home. After ten days, his remains were identified in a slaughterhouse among those of goats and other animals. Militants killed her sister’s husband. Her elder brother went out and didn’t come back. Jayadevi left home in 1990, pregnant, to seek refuge in India.

The Sri Lankan civil war lasted from 1983 to 2009. After Sri Lanka’s independence from the British, the majority Sinhalese discriminated against minority groups for decades. Some Tamils decided to fight the majority Sinhalese Sri Lankan government for a separate state – Eelam – in the island’s north and east. Others found themselves stuck between the two sides; many fled in boats across the 85-mile strait between Sri Lanka and India.

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