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September 25, 2009
Hundreds of thousands remain displaced in Sri Lanka

Months after Sri Lanka’s government declared victory over the rebel Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam, nearly 300,000 people remain displaced by the civil war that lasted 26 years. President Mahina Rajapaksa claims the displaced will be able to return home by the end of January.

Amidst mounting criticisms about conditions, a United Nations human rights expert visited camps in the northern part of the country on Friday.

Bart Beeson, a freelance journalist and campaign organizer, and Annalise Romoser, a freelance journalist focused on human rights and rural development, describe the predicament at World Politics Review.

A displaced person in Sri Lanka.

Everywhere in the Sri Lankan capital of Colombo, posters featuring smiling soldiers holding rocket launchers and machine guns celebrate the recent end to the nation’s 26-year civil war. But in the government-run camps that still house more than 250,000 ethnic Tamils displaced by the war’s fighting, the mood is far from celebratory.

In late August, heavy rains at the largest camp, Manik, flooded tents and led to unsanitary conditions. According to aid worker K Thampu, “The situation was heartbreaking. Tents were flooded and mothers, desperate to keep their children dry during the night, took chairs and tables from school facilities for them to sleep on.”

Rains also caused toilets to flood, with worms covering large swaths of ground near latrines, says Thampu. At stake, according to local experts, is not only the immediate welfare of camp residents, but chances for long-lasting peace in Sri Lanka.

Most of the internally displaced people (IDPs) have been living in the camps since May, when they fled the intense fighting that marked the final battle between government forces and the insurgent group known as the Tamil Tigers. Publicly, the Sri Lankan government has committed to returning IDPs to their homes by November of this year, and several thousand people have been released from camps to live with relatives. But the government under President Mahinda Rajapaksa also maintains that others must remain in camps until the area around their former homes is cleared of mines. At the same time, government representatives are slowly screening camp residents to identify former combatants.

Aid workers and local experts agree that the government must move quickly, for several reasons. The most urgent among them is monsoon season, which starts at the end of September and will only exacerbate the already difficult camp conditions. More tents and toilets will flood, increasing the risk of communicable and mosquito-born diseases.

“We saw how bad things got after the recent rains, which only lasted 3 or 4 days,” says Thampu, who works for the Baltimore-based humanitarian organization Lutheran World Relief. “Imagine how bad they will get once the monsoons are upon us.”

In addition to the rains, long-standing tensions between Tamils and the Sinhalese-led government remain, even if the armed insurgency has been defeated. Many worry that if the government does not act quickly to return people to their homes, it will lead to new problems in northern Sri Lanka.

Thampu says that many teenagers in the camps are already frustrated. “Young people have told me, ‘We have no freedom to talk, no protection, no education, no recreation and no employment! Everything looks like hell in our life. What do we have to live for?'”

Despite living in a warzone, many teenagers were able to pass the university entrance exams. But now they cannot leave the camps to begin their studies. Thampu adds, “Victory has been declared, but what does that mean for them? It is important to give them a new start in life.”

According to T Thevathas, another aid worker in Manik Camp, “Peace and security in the north is the most important thing to consider. People have been waiting 30 years for this, but IDPs in the camps feel no security and have no peace of mind despite the government’s victory.”

Thevatas notes that for real advances to be made in the north, it is crucial for Tamils in the camp to feel that the national government is working on their behalf. “At this point,” he says, “IDPs have placed all their hopes for return on local governments and the international community.”

To read more, see the original post.

The views expressed by contributing bloggers do not reflect the views of Worldfocus or its partners.

Photo courtesy of Flickr user springm / Markus Spring under a Creative Commons license.

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I think it is important to keep in mind that one person’s terrorist is another person’s freedom fighter. Months after the war that brought and end to the Tigers, Tamils are being treated no better than they were during the times they were there. The terrorism back then could explain why. But what excuse does the government have now?


Where are the hoots and calls for a Tamil state as there are daily for a Palestinian state?


It’s amazing how the media hardly too notice when the Sri Lankan army finally crushed the Tamil Tigers a few months back, and killed many thousands of civilians in the process. But the media cannot stop focusing on the Gaza war a few months back. So, where are the war crime accusations against the Sri Lankan army? When do we get a Goldstone report against Sri Lanka?


So many borders, so many camps, so much fighting, so little peace, so much prosperity in sectors where that prosperity looks much like the Titanic pointing straight up with the weight of the world’s wealth at the bottom of the ship. Why the analogy of the Titanic? Because really, the human condition if left to hoard wealth goes down a few more notches into self-absorbtion, self-centeredness, and just plain and total greed. Me thinx that these conditions of the human heart are why hundreds of thousands of peoples live in tents/despair/gloom/and smell of death. Suppose every wealthy person heard the bellowing words of Jesus- “Love thy neighbor.” and took that to the bank. Or suppose that every bulging wallet heard the words of the disciple whom was “very close” to Jesus say, “Love not in words only but in deeds.” Suppose the Maker took away hearts of stone and gave hearts of flesh? What kind of world would this be? I understand certain things are stored almost to the point of rotting to control pricing to make any R & D viable. I know things/ideas/inventions are hidden to do pretty-much the same thing… but, hey– we may have bad things to say about men such as Carnegie and industrialists suppose-ed to have manipulated society/education to their own end (read a paper on education and their “influence” on it)— yet, they then became givers…even Bill Gates. I’ve heard many of my country-men say, “Why give if the Generals at the door-post of these camps just simply divert truck-loads of help into their own pockets? Yes, that may be true… so, then that must be fixed. If the human heart were represented by a circle and the circumference of that circle had the capacity to be quite large in terms of love/giving— me thinx that keeping all things to one’s self leaves the rich living within the puniest boundaries of what is possible (they eye of a needle) and perhaps need to watch the series that’s on right now re: “Hoarding.” Anyway– who am I to judge— were God to give me riches and a pulpit to the world I’d build schools, hospitals, homes, sources of fresh water and set-up an infrastructure of honest/”good” people to run it all while using all that my diaphram can muster to shout out…”Love thy neighbor as thyself!!”


The Sri Lanka government is breeding conditions that were responsible for the creation of the Tamil Tigers. It is about time to return the displaced Tamils to their homes.


The Sri Lankan government conditions that made possible for the creation of the Tamil Tigers. One would think that they heard learned their lesson. It is time to treat the Tamils like first class citizens.

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