No place like home - Sri Lanka

Harold F. Schiffman haroldfs at
Mon May 8 13:36:31 UTC 2006

>>From Amnesty International,

Amnesty International The Wire - May 2006

No place like home - Sri Lanka

Internally displaced persons are often intentionally uprooted by their
governments on ethnic, religious or political grounds. In civil wars...
[they] are often perceived as the enemy... [M]illions more have been
uprooted within their own countries by natural disasters. The State of the
Worlds Refugees 2006 , Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees For
many in Sri Lanka, home is a concept that has lost its meaning.  Uprooted
from their communities by conflict, natural disaster or both, people have
found themselves trapped in a cycle of displacement, often with no end in
sight. Muttiah Canagaratnam and his family fled their home in Kilinochchi,
northern Sri Lanka, in 1985 during intensified armed conflict between
state security forces and Tamil armed groups seeking a separate state in
the north and east of the island. The family had to walk over 100
kilometres south to Mannar from where they took a boat to India. After
three years in an Indian refugee camp, they returned to Sri Lanka.

As violence escalated in the north, however, the family were forced to
move again in 1990. Fleeing to India via the same route, they remained in
a refugee camp there for two years before returning, this time to the
coastal town of Trincomalee. From there they were brought to the
Sithamparapuram welfare centre in Vavuniya, north-eastern Sri Lanka, where
they have remained. With promises of land failing to materialize, Muttiah
Canagaratnam told AI that he has lost hope. Despite 20 years in transit,
the family continue to be denied any possibility of a permanent home.
According to 2002 estimates, there were about 800,000 Internally Displaced
Persons (IDPs) in Sri Lanka. Many of them suffered multiple displacements
as a result of conflict, only to find their situation exacerbated by the
2004 tsunami.

The first conflict-related displacements followed the anti-Tamil riots of
1983, after which over 100,000 Tamils fled to India and other countries
overseas. Throughout the mid-1980s the fighting between Tamil armed
groups, including the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE), and the Sri
Lankan security forces continued to force significant numbers of people
from their homes. However, levels of displacement escalated dramatically
when the Indian Peacekeeping Force (IPKF) withdrew from the island and
hostilities resumed in 1990, prompting thousands of people to escape the
resulting violence.  While the majority of those displaced were Tamils, in
October 1990 over 70,000 Muslims were driven out of the north by the LTTE.
They were given just a matter of hours to leave their homes.

In some cases, families were told by the LTTE to leave for their own
protection. Salma Abubakar left her home in Ampara, eastern Sri Lanka,
under such circumstances. When fighting broke out between the LTTE and
IPKF, she and her fellow villagers were told to leave the village to save
their lives. The entire village abandoned their possessions overnight. In
2002 she returned to her land where she built herself a small thatched
hut. She was making a living from odd jobs, including agricultural work,
when the tsunami hit in 2004, destroying her livelihood. The Sri Lankan
governments reaction to the IDP situation has been insufficient. Its
weaker response to the plight of those affected in the islands north and
east has served to prolong suffering and uncertainty. In addition,
continued use of land for military and armed operations means that many
IDPs still cannot return to their homelands. Until real effort is made to
end the ongoing conflict in Sri Lanka, people like Muttiah Canagaratnam
face a lifetime of dislocation.

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