Indian ministers hold emergency meeting on Sri Lanka and Tamil refugee crisis

Island nation's sharp economic collapse and political crisis has triggered a wave of migration

Protesters sit outside tents at the site of a demonstration in Colombo, Sri Lanka. Many Tamils have fled the country for India. Getty
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A sudden surge of refugees fleeing political and economic meltdown in Sri Lanka has prompted a meeting of leading politicians in India.

The external affairs and finance ministers were due to lead a cross-party meeting on Tuesday to discuss the fallout from the Sri Lankan crisis and ways in which India can help, after significant numbers of refugees poured into the southern state of Tamil Nadu.

It comes after a meeting on Sunday involving the Tamil political parties Dravidian Progressive Federation and the All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam, in which Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s government was urged to intervene in the crisis.

Sri Lanka, a nation of 22 million, is located off the southern coast of India, about 450 kilometres from Tamil Nadu, and concerns are rising over the condition of the island’s Tamil population and the latest migration to the Indian state.

Sri Lankan Tamils, also known as Eelam Tamils, fled en masse to the Indian state during and after the civil war in Sri Lanka from 1983 to 2009, but the region is now receiving an influx because of the current crisis.

Their plight is an emotional issue in India's Tamil-dominated state and often involves demands from politicians for direct intervention.

Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman is expected to focus on the country’s crippled economy and the support India can provide, while External Affairs Minister Subramanyam Jaishankar is likely to decide on India’s position in the continuing political turmoil.

India has so far maintained a hands-off role in Sri Lanka’s political crisis but has said it will support democracy, whatever the outcome.

Other issues 'not bothering India'

Mr Jaishankar last week said India wanted to help Sri Lanka weather its current economic storm.

“India’s focus is on the economic aspects. Other issues are not bothering India," he said.

The country has already sent aid through other channels, provided a line of credit for fuel purchases and pledged support of more than $3.8 billion for “ameliorating the serious economic situation” in Sri Lanka.

India has sent tonnes of rice, medicine and milk powder to the ailing country since April.

Updated: July 19, 2022, 11:35 AM