Citizenship certificate distribution ceremony
On 2nd of November 2011, more than 80 children born to Sri Lankan families in India received confirmation of their Sri Lankan Citizenship during a ceremony held in Vavuniya. The initiative was conducted as part of the activities under UNDP’s Equal Access to Justice Project with the support of the District Secretariat in Vavuniya, the Citizenship Branch of the Department of Immigration and Emigration and the United Nations High Commission for Refugees.
Caught in the midst of the conflict the parents of the children had fled from Sri Lanka in the early 1990s to safer refuges in India. Born in India, the children had Indian birth certificates and upon returning to Sri Lanka with their families after 2003 found that they were unable to obtain a certificate of national identity.
Since 2004, UNDP’s Equal Access to Justice Project has supported communities to obtain over 16,000 documents including from birth certificates, citizenship certificates and national identification cards. Particularly since 2008, UNDP has been working with the Citizenship Branch of the Department of Immigration and Emigration and held 7 community awareness clinics, 4 in Vavuniya, 2 in Mannar and 1 in Jaffna, to specially support the issuing of Citizenship Certificates.
The citizenship awarding ceremony was graced by the Divisional Secretary Mr. Sivapalasundran, UNDP Deputy Country Director Ms. Razina Bilgrami, a representative from UNHCR and the Project Analyst of the Equal Access to Justice Project Ross Clarke. Ms. Bilgrami applauded the leadership role taken on by the District Secretariat and other government institutions such as the Department of Immigration and Emigration in support of this initiative.
Divisional Secretary, Mr. Sivapalasundran highlighted the difficulties for parents to obtain citizenship certificates, which would cost up to Rs. 50,000 taking into consideration travel and legal costs. In addition, he noted that they have to overcome language barriers in instances where government officials may not be able to communicate in Tamil. He valued this service offered by the project partners, noting that it has made obtaining such documents more convenient.
The District Secretary Mrs. P. S. M. Charles, who joined the event, echoed the sentiments of the parents who had accompanied their children for the event. “The National Identity Card means reduced restrictions on their mobility, opening bank accounts, accessing government services, children being able to confirm their candidature for Ordinary and Advanced level examinations, ability to engage in formal employment and obtain a passport and exercising their right to vote” she stated.
In attendance were children of all ages from 3 to 18 with their parents. “Today all 4 of my children are getting their Citizenship Certificates, it’s a relief for me as I did not know if this day would actually come. When I got the message to attend today’s function I was relieved,” said a father who had fled the country in 1990 and returned with his family in 2004. He had got his marriage certificate also through the documentation services provided by the clinic, without which the Citizenship Certificates for his children could not be obtained.
The ceremony concluded with the children posing for a group photograph holding their Citizenship Certificates proudly, being the first batch of many more children to be supported through the Equal Access to Justice project in providing them with a valuable document which would have an impact on the rest of their lives, which ever path they choose to tread.