Monday, December 05, 2016

Absence of Citizenship Hinders Employment: An Analysis of the Relationship between Education of Refugee Youth and Employment Opportunities

Maneesh P 

(1Project fellow, Department of Econometrics, School of Economics, Madurai Kamaraj University, Madurai Tamil Nadu, India.He can be reached at

The freedom of movement of Sri Lankan Tamil refugees was restricted at the time of the assassination of Rajiv Gandhi in 1991 and they were confined within the camps. During this period refugees suffered alot due to oppressive rules and regulations and stringent security measures were adopted to preclude the connection with LTTE. Refugees were not allowed to work outside the camp during this period and those staying outside the camps were arrested and shifted to government camps. The situation has changed since then and refugees enjoy the freedom of movement with very few restrictions. The government has been providing free education upto the XIIth standard in government and government aided schools. In addition, they provide free note books, text books, uniforms, noon meals and bus passes. A free bicycle is also given to students studying in the XIth standard. In the earlier years refugees were allowed to go out and earn a living with an agreement of returning to the camp by 6.00 p.m every day. But now they may go out at any time and stay anywhere and are required to present themselves in the camp one day in a month to receive the monthly dole that they are entitled to. If he/she is absent without a genuine reason he/she will lose the registration in the camp. Families in a good economic position have settled outside the camp. These families have to register themselves in the nearest police station for security reasons. Refugee girls in the camps have opted for a nursing course so that they may go abroad to make a decent living. The paradox is that the government has been providing educational opportunities to Sri Lankan Tamil refugees without creating opportunities for employment. Youth living in the camps opt for private sector jobs on completion of their education. Moreover, the monthly dole provided by the government to each member of the household is not enough to meet the household expenses, which may induce the children to go out to work instead of going to school.
The relationship between the dropout rate of refugee children from school and the absence of employment in the government sector has not been explored by researchers. Even though a refugee youth has completed secondary education or degree, he/she has to get a job in the private sector or the unorganised sector as manual labourer. There is often no connection between their educational status and the kind of employment they get engaged with. Since the flow of refugees in the local labour market has resulted in a fall in wage level and refugees are willing to undertake risky jobs that local people abstain from, trade unions are fighting for job security and minimum wages. Refugees refrain from organising themselves in a union to demand their rights due to over reliance on government schemes and absence of citizenship. Refugees have the fear that if they protest against government rules and regulations the government may completely withdraw welfare services and impose strict regulations.  Therefore refugees have been obeying government rules and regulations and lead an unsatisfactory life without any vision of the future.
India has not signed the 1951 UN Refugee Convention (Geneva Convention) and the 1967 protocol relating to the status of refugees neither has it enacted domestic law for refugees. The legal status of Sri Lankan Tamil refugees in India is officially governed by the Foreigners Act 1946 and The Citizenship Act 1955 which defines all non-citizens who enter without visas to be illegal migrants, with no exception for refugees or asylum seekers. India has not adopted a national refugee legislation nor have the national asylum procedures been established, but still refugees are provided with accommodation and financial support.  India has decided not to give permanent resident status or Indian citizenship to Sri Lankan Tamil refugees, expecting them to return to their home land following the conclusion of the war. As of January 2016, there are 64,079 refugees living in 108 government authorised camps in Tamil Nadu.

Table 1: Camp population abstract

Month & 
Child Male

Source: Department Of Rehabilitation, Tamil Nadu

Absence of right to access government jobs in India has compelled the refugees to get engaged in unorganized manual labour market and private sector. Agriculture and fishing was the job of these refugees when they were in Sri Lanka. Refugees have no right to buy land or property to start a business or engage in agriculture. Therefore, most of them are involved in painting, digging, construction works and agriculture on other person’s land. This work is generally available only a few days in a month and they stay unemployed the remaining days. 

              In 2011, 1728 persons were returned to Sri Lanka and 1291 persons in 2012. The return of refugees to Sri Lanka has been declining gradually (see figure 1). In 2013, 273 families, (718 members) were returned to Sri Lanka. Likewise, 453 persons were returned to their native places in Sri Lanka during 2015. In the beginning of 2016, 50 families consisting of 163 persons were returned to Sri Lanka. The educated refugees return to Sri Lanka to renew their passport so that they may go to foreign countries in search of a job.
Refugees are unskilled labours therefore they have least bargaining power for higher wage rates. Simultaneously, the increase in supply of labour force in the domestic labour market has resulted in a fall in wage rate. Refugees have experienced discrimination in payment and recruitment. Refugee camps are located in interior parts of Tamil Nadu where employment opportunities are limited. If a refugee youth is made to discontinue his education, he will enter the local labour market to search jobs. This will result in further decline in the wage rate. It is necessary to give citizenship and access to government jobs to these refugees in order to curtail dropout of refugee youth and solving their unemployment problems. Refugees can achieve higher socio-economic well being only by ensuring better employment and effective social security schemes. Provision of education in skill development and loans to setup small business units through NGOs and banks will help to reduce the problem of unemployment. 


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