Thursday, December 03, 2009

Sri Lanka: The long and winding road to normality

Inside the makeshift home of a returnee family in Jaffna district in Sri Lanka's north

Thousands of internally displaced persons (IDPs) who have left camps in Sri Lanka’s north say they are struggling to claim back their lives even as the government implements a programme to support them.

In recent weeks, some 140,000 people have left the camps, according to officials. Most have returned to their places of origin, including the war-torn districts of Jaffna, Vavuniya, Mannar and Mullaitivu in Sri Lanka’s Northern Province. In addition, people are being resettled mostly in areas previously under the control of the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE).

“I am happy to be out of the camp. The [central] government has given us some basic things, like several accessories to cook our meals. But we’re still trying to get back to normal,” said Rajini, who recently returned to Jaffna district.

Her home was outside the district, but the area was heavily mined, forcing her to live with her parents in a new house built by family members using pieces of wood, haphazardly-arranged roofing sheets and plastic covers.

“There is an urgent need for things such as wood to expand our houses, which are small … Currently, there are more than 10 of us in these small living quarters,” Rajini, who asked not to be identified by her full name, told IRIN.

“Awakening of the North”

To help resettlement efforts, President Mahinda Rajapaksa has appointed a task force under the “Vadakkin Vasantham” (Awakening of the North) programme, including the governor, military officials, ministers and other officials.

“We have done the resettlement under a master plan. We have not just resettled people for the sake of resettling them,” GA Chandrasiri, governor of the Northern Province, told IRIN in an exclusive interview.

“We have taken many steps to make sure that resettled IDPs can live a normal life in their resettled areas,” he said.

Under the programme, the central government is providing each resettled family with 12 to 18 sheets of roofing, 10 bags of cement, materials to build fences, squatting pans for latrines, dry rations for six months and kitchen utensils, he said.

The government is also dispensing 350,000 rupees (US$3,055) to rebuild collapsed houses and 50,000 rupees ($436) for partly damaged houses.

“The government of Sri Lanka is working with its different agencies and also with other non-governmental entities for the common goal of returning normalcy in the north. For example, there are no fishing restrictions in place in the north. People are free to continue their livelihoods,” he said.

Mixed response

The IDPs leaving camps are transferred to transit points such as schools or churches, and then make their way to their places of origin or new resettlement areas, according to local NGO sources working with the returnees.

Many are accompanied by dozens of other family members who cannot return to their homes because the areas have still to be cleared of mines laid during the conflict. This means homes are overcrowded and resources stretched, according to local NGOs in Jaffna.

Despite government efforts, there are mixed feelings among the mostly ethnic Tamil IDPs who have been resettled or returned in the past month.

“It is so good to be out of the camps. I have suffered a lot,” said A Thirumaran, who was newly resettled in Mannar district. “Now there is some freedom at last. Although there are many painful memories, it is very good to be back.”

Returnee KR Siva from Jaffna said he was looking for a job, but finding it difficult. “The government gave certain household amenities for some families, but not for all families. For example, I have not even got a cent from the government to restart a livelihood,” he said.

Disclaimer:This material comes to you via IRIN, the humanitarian news and analysis service of the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs. The opinions expressed do not necessarily reflect those of the United Nations or its Member States.
Photo: Copyright IRIN

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