No Place Quite Like Home

Refugee Returnee Story

Moving from one location to another in search of safety was the life known to Mariya Bernard and his family. Today, he is back in his home town- Chavakachcheri, Jaffna. Bernard explained what his life was before he decided to come back to his home town. Recalling his grim past, he said “Every situation we found was very tense in nature. We moved because of the war. We moved again because Liberation Tigers of Tamil Elam (LTTE) was recruiting children that are of similar ages to that of my own. Fear drove us to realise there was no other option than to leave the country.”

Bernard and his family, consisting of his wife and three children, lived in the Mandapam Refugee Camp in India for six years. Recalling his life as a refugee, Bernard said “we received all kinds of assistance while living in the camp. We received financial assistance and we had enough money to live a decent life. I didn’t work because my children sent us money from abroad.”

When people started to return back to Sri Lanka, I too registered with UNHCR. “I wanted to see and care for my mother before it’s too late” said Bernard recalling his decision to return. He added that many refugees in India are fearful of the security situation in Sri Lanka because of the rumours and stories they hear through media. He added saying “I too was worried about the security situation but my main worry was access to housing. I was told we would have access to shelter assistance upon return. I already had land, what I wanted was to rebuild my house. Upon my return, I did not face any security problems; initially there were check-ups by military to see if I was at the address I provided. But then they stopped. Now no one hassles us.”

Bernard and his family benefited by receiving air tickets, transport and reintegration grant from UNHCR. He did not receive any assistance to rebuild his home as the Indian Housing Project didn’t cover the area where his land is situated. But Bernard remains hopeful that he’d be able to obtain assistance from the government.

One year after arriving, Bernard and his family believe that they made the right decision to return to their home town and to restart life surrounded by family and relatives. “I’m very happy to be back because at the end of the day there is no place quite like home. I used the money UNHCR gave me to start my own business in distributing eggs to small shops and it is bringing us enough income.”