The number of Sri Lankan Tamils fleeing to India to escape violence in their country has crossed the 15,000-mark despite a dramatic drop in arrivals in October.
The refugees are still coming in, carrying their meagre belongings, and their total in refugee camps in Tamil Nadu is now 15,912, said SC Chandrahasan, a Sri Lankan Tamil heading Chennai-based NGO Organisation for Eelam Refugee Rehabilitation.
The total includes 6,027 men, 5,451 women, 2,312 male children and 2,122 female children.
Starting in January, the refugee flight touched the peak figure of 5,769 in August following heavy fighting across Sri Lanka's northeast between the military and the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE), before sliding to 3,749 in September. In October, it plunged to just 735.
Chandrahasan said that the latest arrivals have attributed the October fall to expectations from the just-ended peace talks in Geneva, rough weather that made sea travel risky, and an improvement in the conduct of the military in Tamil areas.
"Surprised by the low arrivals we asked people what the reason was," he said. "They said the military was being more careful with (Tamil) people in areas like Trincomalee. People said the forces were more restrained."
Trincomalee, on Sri Lanka's east coast, is from where most of the Tamils who have taken refuge in India have come from. It is the killing of Tamil civilians there in January that triggered the latest refugee run to Tamil Nadu. The point from where the refugee set sail to India is however Mannar in the island's northwest.
With the Oct 28-29 Geneva dialogue failing to achieve any breakthrough, Chandrahasan warned that the refugee arrivals may pick up. "But if the security forces are restrained, it will not go up in a big way."
Several thousands of Sri Lankan Tamils fled to Tamil Nadu in 1983 after anti-Tamil violence in Colombo and elsewhere. In later years many opted for the West. Tamil Nadu's refugee camps are still home for about 75,000 Sri Lankans besides an estimated 30,000-35,000 who live on their own in the sprawling state.