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Home > Tamil National ForumSelected Writings by Dharmeratnam Sivaram (Taraki) > HSZ renders Jaffna IDPs in vulnerable position

Selected Writings by Dharmeratnam Sivaram (Taraki)

 

HSZ renders Jaffna IDPs in vulnerable position

31 October 2002, Northeastern Herald


A US state department official who visited Jaffna after it was captured by the army said that the peninsula provided a window of opportunity for reconstruction and development. Even today there is much hype about rebuilding Chavakachcheri, Jaffna town, improving telecommunication facilities, roads and tourism in the north.Thousands of tourists from the south visit Jaffna today. Ministers and diplomats come and go. New banks and insurance companies from the south have started business in Jaffna and are reporting handsome profits already. Business seems to thrive. Flashy new Indian motorbikes are on the roads everywhere. All this leaves the impression in one’s mind that Jaffna is almost fine. Little would the average visitor know that there are thousands of refugees living in run down refugee camps amid squalor and official negligence.This is the other side of Jaffna, a reality that the government pretends not to see.

The ever-flamboyant Dr. Jayalath Jayawardena would rather be seen walking about Chavakachcheri in the company of diplomats and obsequious Kachcheri officials.

But the refugees of Jaffna remain a neglected lot. Eight months have gone by since the ceasefire agreement between the LTTE and the government was signed, ensuring the suspension of armed hostilities.

There are 113 refugee camps in the Jaffna peninsula. There are more than 10,000 Internally Displaced Persons comprising 2584 families in these camps. The government has made little effort to care for these camps. In fact the government for set few up for the purpose of accommodating IDPs.

IDPs who were forced out of their villages in the northwestern parts of the peninsula known as Valigamam North between 1990 and 1992 live in forty-eight camps. The majority of the IDPs in Jaffna are from this region.They live in 16 refugee shelters in the Uduvil Division, 5 in Tellipalai, 6 in Kopay, 9 in Chandilippai and 4 in Sanganai. Most of these camps are on private property.There are eight camps located along the northeastern coast where fisher families that fled military operations from the coastal villages of Valigamam North such as Myillidy now eke out a living in run down shelters along the Pt. Pedro – Thondamanar Road.

The northern part of the Valigamam division was the most populous part of the peninsula before 1984. Today only soldiers live there. Scores of villages are no go zones, sown with minefields.

Kankesanthurai, Tellipalai, Vasavilan and Maviddapuram were densely populated and fast expanding towns before the war began in 1984. Today they lie within the largest high security zone in the country, ruined.




The largest refugee camp for Valigamam north IDPs is the Sabapathy Welfare Center near the Maruthanamadam junction. There are 185 families living here. The roofs of the shelters in this welfare center are mostly made of dried Palmyra frond Thatch. The huts have been built with mud and sticks. The only cement and brick structure at the welfare center is its church. Although the majority of the refugees at this camp are Hindus, everyone worships at the Church of Our Lady of the Rosary. All the refugees here had contributed funds to build the church.

Our Lady of the Rosary was a church in the Kankesanthurai electorate where people of all faiths worshipped. It is partly destroyed and stands derelict in the Sri Lanka army’s high security zone in Valigamam north.Hence the decision of the IDPs to build a replica of it in their camp.

Water is scarce here. There are only four tube wells for the use of the 185 families in the camp. There is one well in the camp which is only used for bathing and washing. The water in it is undrinkable. There are queues in the morning before the tube wells and the sole water well. Inmates have to take turns to wash and bathe, as the water supply is woefully inadequate.

Latrine facilities are a nightmare for the people in the Sabapathy camp. Initially there were 23 latrines in the welfare center. But only sixteen are usable now. The toilets have to be maintained by the refugees themselves.“We do minor repairs that we can afford to prevent the remaining toilets from falling apart. We get no help from the authorities for the upkeep of the toilets”, says an inmate.

One can see schoolchildren standing in queues in the mornings before the latrines.The welfare center is on a low-lying, rocky land. The cesspits for the latrines here were built partly above the ground, as it had been difficult to dig deep, breaking the rock below the surface.

Heavy rains flood the refugee camp premises. The latrines are unusable during the rainy season. They cannot be flushed because the water in the cesspits rises above ground level. Worse, refugees fear that the excreta from inevitable leaks in the water filled cesspits is polluting the camp and its shelters.

Even brief showers leave pools of muddy water in the camp.A large number of Valigamam north refugees fled to the Vanni in 1995 when the Sri Lanka army was advancing into Jaffna. They have begun gradually to return to Jaffna since the ceasefire agreement was signed in February.

These IDPs lament that they made a terrible mistake in deciding to come back. Thirty Valigamam north refugee families that returned to Jaffna in August were sent to the Sabapathy Welfare Center. They have received neither refugee relief nor assistance to put up a shelter. Some of them have made homes with sticks and old polythene sheets. The floor space of a temporary shelter in which they now live is 10 foot wide and twelve foot long.

The refugees of the Sabapathy camp have been on the run for 12 years.

They have moved bag and baggage six times to six different places since they were rendered refugees in 1990.

The biggest calamity that the Valigamam north refugees face today is that the owners of the lands on which the Welfare Centers are situated are demanding that their property should be returned to them.

The landlords are asking the refugees to leave.The owner of the ‘magistrate camp’ premises in Mallakam has sent legal notice, asking the refugees to vacate. The Tellipalai Divisional Secretary’s Office has asked the refugees in this camp to move to another place. It has asked them to find another place if they are to receive the full payment from the government to build homes. The D. S office has granted them 10000 rupees each to build houses. However, it is stipulated that the full payment of 25,000 rupees per house can be disbursed only if one builds it on land he/she owns.

“But how can we build on land that is ours. Our lands are in the high security zones. The army is camped there. How can we go back?” asks N. Ganeshan the President of the Federation of IDP Welfare Centers in Jaffna.

“The government is neither giving us money to build nor finding us alternative but habitable land to own,” he said. The refugees of the ‘magistrate camp’ refused to relocate on the land shown them by the DS office because it had no access to roads and was in the midst of an inhospitable shrub jungle.

Eight months of peace has helped reopen two main schools in two minor sectors of Valigamam north. But refugee children stand little to benefit.

The Tellipalai Union College and the Vasavilaan Central College are functioning again. Yet students in the camps who studied in these schools before they were displaced are unable to go back to their own schools because they live in distant refugee camps.

The refugees formed their own association in Jaffna to fight for their welfare and resettlement seven months ago. The organization is mainly based among the IDPs of Valigamam north.

“Our predicament has been miserable because we have been depending on others for our welfare. It is time for refugees like us to do everything possible to demand the return to our lands”, N. Ganeshan said.

He added that petty crimes and anti-social activities are on the increase in the welfare centers. Teenage marriages are also common, according to him.

The refugees were planning to start a campaign to enter their villages in the high security zones without permission from the government. The Valigamam north IDPs are the only ones in the northeast who have not seen their houses and property since they fled their towns and villages 12 years ago.

However, the LTTE has persuaded them not to start their protest now on the grounds that their problem would be taken up during peace talks in Thailand.


 

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