For Sri Lankan refugees who fled a vicious ethnic conflict in their own country, there is little choice but to seek safety at refugee camps in India. Many do not have the resources to return to Sri Lanka, and many are fearful to return to their home country. During the war, many who tried to return faced abduction (or worse) by the army or rebel groups. To make matters more difficult, most refugees lack the essential skills needed to find anything but hazardous and low-paying work in India.
Recent statistics compiled by the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) show that at the end of 2010, there were almost 70,000 men, women and children in 112 refugee camps in Tamil Nadu, India.
“Imagine a young refugee from a far-flung encampment with little hope for any job, much less financial security,” explains Father Vincent Thamburaj, a Salesian Missionary who oversees the "New Beginnings" program in India.
The innovative program- developed by Salesian Missions- empowers refugees with valuable training and support so they can secure decent jobs that will enable them to better care for their families and begin brighter futures.
"After a nine-month training program, our students are now being welcomed by multinational recruiters who come to interview them for positions as desktop publishers, visual editors, electricians and mechanics,” explains Father Thamburaj. “They find not only a job, but dignity and hope in this new land.”
The New Beginnings program is the only full-time vocational technical training for Sri Lankan Tamil refugees in southern India. Program administrators estimate that 80 percent of the students from the first graduating class were able to obtain employment based on their training.
Not only do the program graduates benefit, Father Thamburaj estimates that 1,700 family members are indirectly helped by the program. “We’re working with families to put the focus on increasing the long-term opportunities for youth,” he says. “We’re counseling parents so that they permit their children to continue education whenever possible and we are providing boarding to students of very poor families who are coming from distant camps.”
The Salesians of Tamil Nadu have been providing assistance to refugees for three decades. Salesians have been working in India for more than 100 years working with the most vulnerable citizens throughout the country. More than 2,000 Salesians manage orphanages, centers for street children, trade schools, and hospitals and clinics. Generous donors like you give hope and brighter futures to children in families in India and around the globe.