The mystery about Sri Lanka's displaced Tamils


Last month, Amnesty International criticised the Sri Lanka government for forcibly confining internally displaced people (IDPs) in camps. Meanwhile, the Centre for Policy Alternatives has presented a petition to the government saying that 3,00,000 civilians are being detained illegally. The former chief justice Sarath Silva fears that the continuing confinement of Tamils could cause a new war.
Tamil refugees have described the camps as being part of a genocidal agenda. The government calls the camps ‘welfare centres’. Critics call them ‘concentration camps’.

A group of volunteers recently summarised their observations after visiting the camps. They said that many families have relatives to go to but are kept in the camps; families are separated; the camps are administered by military personnel. They concluded that aid agencies should be able to talk to the displaced.
‘Tamil News’ says that according to ‘reliable sources’, foreigners are being misled by being shown the better facilities.

Laurent Sury, head of mission for Médecins Sans Frontières, observes that “with such a large number of people concentrated together, there is always the risk of waterborne disease”. The World Health Organisation says no large outbreaks of disease have been reported so far, although there is a risk of malaria and diarrhoea, and now there are worries about skin diseases.
In March, an Indian medical team set up a hospital in Pulmoddai in the Trincomalee district to receive IDPs being brought by Red Cross ships from the areas held by Tamil Tiger rebels. India now feels that conditions have improved sufficiently to withdraw.

Adnan Khan, country director of the World Food Programme, confirms that “food supplies have never been affected by access restrictions”. He said his people were able to move freely within the camps.
One of the reasons given for holding people in the camps and restricting access was to weed out hard-core Tamil fighters. There have been reports of posters put out by the Tamil Tigers appearing in the camps.

Many of us living in Sri Lanka fear that, despite the defeat of the Tamil Tigers, people will continue to be maimed and killed. A friend who was often vehement in her criticism of President Mahinda Rajapaksa, said: “I thank the president for finishing off the LTTE, who did nothing for the Tamils here. They represented the Tamils overseas. I thank the president because we do not hear of any deaths anymore due to bombs”.

The government says it will take at least six months to make the areas from which IDPs fled habitable again. The Tamil Tigers littered the area with land mines. India has already sent de-mining experts and Britain has promised aid.
Houses need to be rebuilt and other facilities provided: The Tamil Tigers controlled the area but neglected the infrastructure. The government plans to resettle at least 80 per cent of those in the camps by the end of the year and rehabilitate over 10,000 former rebels and thousands of families who had direct contact with the Tamil Tigers.

The United Nations refugee agency, the UNHCR, described a previous resettlement of 2,231 to seven villages in the Musali division in the southern part of Mannar district, which at one time was controlled by the Tamil Tigers.
On June 9, 2,120 Tamils and Muslims were resettled. At the end of June, some 9,000 people aged 60 or more were allowed to leave the camps and join relatives. On Aug 5, 1,100 people boarded 70 buses to return to Jaffna, Batticaloa, Trincomalee and Ampara in areas where de-mining, reconstruction of roads, supply of electricity and water were already completed.

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