By Priyakala Manoharan, Project Co-ordinator, Chrysalis – December 2019
As an officer who deals with all aspects of Returnees (as varied as one’s imagination can get) my journey with Returnees has been interesting. By listening to their disturbing stories, interjecting with encouraging words and lifting their dejected spirits, I am satisfied that I am doing something worthwhile for these Returnees.
This ERRIN program is a unique one. Unlike an outright cash grant, this in-kind assistance ensures that the money allocated for each Returnee is not frittered away on trivial commodities but is utilized for essential needs. The program encourages Returnees to engage in productive income-generating activities and assists the needy in seeking necessary medical attention.
A total number of 60 Returnees have so far been reintegrated back into our Sri Lankan society. After a long period of struggle, of living with hardship, and working to integrate themselves into the host culture, many people have not made it. They attempted to get into Europe by fair or illegitimate ways after fleeing from the war-torn areas of Sri Lanka. The majority are economic migrants seeking a better life in Europe who have had a frustrating battle in their search for employment and right to remain in their host countries. The program is called Assisted Voluntary Return and Reintegration (AVRR) however often there is little choice for these individuals and families who can no longer stay in Europe.
As the cost of living keeps rising in Sri Lanka the leg-up given is often not enough for them to start up a small venture to generate a stable income. As a result, some Returnees fall prey to debt traps. Some are yet to settle the debts incurred with traffickers for their illegal passage to Europe. However, they still borrow money because they are materially less resourceful.
Some consider re-migration because of financial and social pressure. Many do not have a financial support system to fall back on. Moreover, people living around the returnees look down upon them for not having succeeded in their attempt at migration, having spent a mammoth sum of money. Therefore, they feel that they have been unable to take their place as a fully-fledged member of their community which influences their idea to leave the country once again.
They have experienced extremely stressful events during their stay in the host country but nevertheless when they return to the home country after decades, they still find hard to adapt to a gamut of changes. Re-establishing an identity while trying to juggle the tasks of daily living is a challenge to them, leading to post-return stress which takes its toll on their emotional wellbeing.
Age-wise, the returnees who are between 25 to 40 have mostly returned home as they have realized the fact that they cannot be financially stable if they wait anymore to obtain their citizenship. Some of the male returnees have crossed the marriageable age of late 20 to mid-30s. Such returnees wish to marry at the earliest and start a fresh life. However, instability discourages them to seed any fresh development in their life.
The Returnees are appreciative of the program because it encourages them to invest in something that will help them establish a decent standard of living post-return. They are encouraged to utilize their skills and knowledge to build something that is not only income generating but also something they can be proud of. It goes a little way to reduce the stress and strain of having paid out large sums of money and not succeeded in their migration.
In some exceptional circumstances, medical and other needs of Returnees are given attention based on their priority. They feel that the program helps to tide them over and addresses their most pressing problems, namely earning a regular income by granting them value in-kind.