Monday, May 17, 2010

Sri Lanka: Life is still miserable for resettled northerners

By Gayan Kumara Weerasinghe - “When they say we have been resettled, people of this county think that we are living a happy, decent life. But, that’s far from the truth. We are still the under privileged people without proper shelter and proper settlement plan. We shed tears everyday”, say the war victims who are now resettled.

Lakbimanews toured the North to find out how these people have learned to survive after the war came to an end.

Kamala Raja Maidilee, a 28-year-old resident from the Kanda area of Kilinochchi lives with her family in a house that can hardly be called a house. We met her during a journey we took to inspect the situation of the resettled people in Kilinochchi, Mankulam, Kanagarayakulam and Puliyankulam areas, after a year since the LTTE were crushed last year.

“There are four members in my family,” she said, ‘’which includes her mother, father, and her younger brother’’. “My father worked for the Irrigation Department. I passed the A/Ls but did not get sufficient marks to enter the university. My brother passed the O/Ls and he is doing A/Ls now. I worked for some time as a Development Officer in Kanda for the Red Cross. However, as the tensions of war were escalating, we had to live essentially in hiding for two years; we thought that the LTTE would kidnap me and my brother. Now we are safe here. On April 22, 2009, we were asked go to a Displaced Persons Camp. We were given the chance to go back to our villages on the April 29, 2010 after one year. We had to live in displaced camps under several restrictions and we were wordlessly happy when we were told that we would be sent back to our villages. However, it was the worst experience ever, when we returned to the villages. We, in fact, thought that we had come to the wrong place. Our houses remained where they were ... but all were destroyed. We had no place to stay. We only had the 12 aluminum sheets that the government provided; it seemed that the displaced camp was better,” she said tear filled eyes.

The house which was destroyed during the war, was about to collapse any time. It had no doors, windows or a roof. Maidilee lives in this house after having constructing a tiny shelter with the aluminum sheets she received from the government. She lives here with her parents and brother.

“Although my father worked for the government, he didn’t even get a pension. My parents are old now and they are unable to do anything. As my brother is still studying, I have to earn for them. When I was in the displaced camp, I was teaching in a primary school. I was paid Rs.3000 by a NGO and Rs.2000 by the government. Yet, when I left for resettlement, I lost this job.’’

“The roads are built, and we have electricity and telephones. But, these are not the basics; we need employment, proper housing and other facilities. Our dream is to rebuild our destroyed house. How can I do this all by myself?” she said. Having no one to share her grief she looked so helpless. However, she is very happy about the end of the war and goes on to say that the death of Prabhakaran has given them eternal peace.

“The war is now over and we’d rather not talk about it anymore. We had to endure all these troubles as a result of the war and if the war resumes, I will commit suicide,” she recounted her ordeal with this strong remark.

We travelled passing the Omanthai check point on A 9 to see how the resettled people live there. We could sense that these people were striving hard to re build their lives. The displaced community had cultivated their lands and paddy fields being an example to the whole country.

“When we came to the village from the camps, we did not have a place to rest, and we had to find shelter under trees and stones” says S. Jeyaruwan, a 49 year old resident of the Puliyan Kulam- Paraenkulam. We met him at a cement distribution centre.

“We can now live happily in our villages. Even though it was told that we had been resettled, we had no house to stay as our houses were flattened during the war. We were given only 12 aluminum sheets to build our house. How can we re-build a house with only 12 aluminum sheets? We had no toilets or water facilities. At the least, they should have provided us with basic facilities before resettling us.’’ Jeyaruwan was not blaming the government, but pointed out the flaws in the procedures. On the contrary, Jeyaruwan agrees that the people of Vanni are living happily even sans the basic facilities since the war was the big headache. He is also of the view that this state of freedom can be further enhanced by creating employment to the people of Vanni.

House instead cement

We also met Y. Padmarubi, the Grama Niladari of the North Puliyankulam. She was guiding the procedure of distributing cement and mentioned that in her area alone, there were 216 resettlements. “They returned to their dwellings on 5th December last year but they were not provided with sufficient facilities during the resettlement; however now things are falling into places gradually” said Ms Padmarubi.

We also spoke to some people who were in a queue to get their share of cement. When asked what will they do with the cement, one person replied, “Will keep it as it was given to us”, “Will cement my floor”, “Will build a house when I get the sand and stones,” said others...

These answers show that even though they have been provided with cement, they have no plans for real use of the stuff, because they did not have the other building materials.

“How useful it would be if the government had built some houses rather than distributing these cement bags in such a manner” queried Krishnasami, a resident of Mutthumari Nagar in Puliyankulam. He went onto say that this activity could have been well planned with the support of the police or army. He is also of the view that unplanned activities lead to unsuccessful results. “I made a living when some people hired me as a labourer. I am unable to work anymore due to my old age and illness. I have to make a living with the support of another,” said Krishnasami.

According to Sinnasami, his birth place is Matale. He lived at the Wariyapola tea estate when he was young. He came to Vanni to work as his income was not sufficient. He has a good rapport with the Sinhala people from the South and agrees that the people of the North require the support of the people from the South. He also mentioned that the younger generation in the South must take the initiative to work shoulder to shoulder with the people of the North to develop the country.

On a daily basis, on the A 9 Road, there are thousands of vehicles heading towards the North from the South carrying passengers to Nagadeepa and Jaffna. On some weekends, more than 100,000 people travel on this road.

Even though the resettled community built tea kiosks for the travellers, travellers from the south prefer to use the hotels built by the army. We also witnessed how these people of the South walking towards hotels built by the army ignor the small shops run by the replaced community.

© Lakbima News

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