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Maitrayee Guha asked : Are there any stateless people in Sri Lanka now?

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  • Gulbin Sultana replies: No, there are no stateless people in Sri Lanka now. The Grant of Citizenship to Persons of Indian Origin Act No.35 of 2003 of Government of Sri Lanka has solved the problem of statelessness in Sri Lanka.

    After Sri Lanka became independent in 1948, the new parliament enacted the Citizenship Act of 1948 which gave birth to statelessness, particularly to the descendants of Indian Tamils living in the tea estate areas of the Central Province. Under a series of bilateral agreements between India and Sri Lanka in 1964 and 1974, Sri Lanka agreed to provide citizenship to a total of 375,000 Indian Tamils and India agreed to provide citizenship and repatriate 600,000 Indian Tamils. A total of 506,000 people applied for Indian citizenship and 470,000 applied for Sri Lankan citizenship under these agreements. The process of granting Indian citizenship was very slow and in 1982, about 86,000 applications for citizenship to the Indian High Commission were still pending. A further 90,000 people who had been issued with Indian passports, still remained in Sri Lanka.

    At this time, India advised Sri Lanka that it no longer considered the 1964 and 1974 agreements to be binding as the implementation period had expired. In 1984, repatriations to India ceased altogether with the suspension of the Talaimannar-Rameswaram ferry service following the inter-ethnic violence. In 1988, Sri Lanka passed the Grant of Citizenship to Stateless Persons Act. All stateless persons of Indian origin lawfully resident in Sri Lanka (who were not amongst the 506,000 who had applied for Indian citizenship) were entitled to Sri Lankan citizenship under this Act. However, in 2003, there were still an estimated 300,000 stateless persons of Indian origin living in Sri Lanka. On October 7, 2003, the Sri Lankan Parliament unanimously passed the Grant of Citizenship to Persons of Indian Origin Act No.35 of 2003 which granted Sri Lankan citizenship to all Indian Tamils who had been residing in Sri Lanka since October 1964 and their descendents. This amounted to 168,141 persons and included those who had been granted Indian citizenship under previous agreements but were still living in Sri Lanka, though they had to renounce their Indian citizenship. All Indian Tamils living in Sri Lanka had finally been granted Sri Lankan citizenship, 55 years after independence.

    Also, in 2009, the Sri Lankan Parliament amended the Grant of Citizenship to Stateless Persons (Special Provisions) Act, 1988 and granted citizenship to any person who was a permanent resident of Sri Lanka with Indian origin as on October 30, 1964, but was compelled to leave the island nation due to circumstances beyond the control of such person and later resided in India.