‘Our people are suffering’: St. Patrick’s Rector
[TamilNet, Friday, 08 September 2006, 11:31 GMT]
Saying food supplies were “urgently” needed in the Jaffna peninsula, the Rector of St. Patrick’s College this week called for the A9 highway to be opened and military restrictions on fishing to be lifted. Fr. Justin B Gnanapragasam also called for the military’s curfew in Jaffna to be lifted or at least confined to night time. “Our people are suffering immensely. Please keep them in your prayers,” he said in a letter to past pupils. Five thousand displaced people who sought shelter in St. Patrick’s are refusing to leave, disrupting classes which should have resumed by now, he said.
“The security situation [here] is very highly unpredictable and fearful,” the Rector said in his letter dated last Sunday.
“At least 3-5 people are killed daily. Disappearance is also taking place. At least 57, including a Catholic Priest, Fr. N. Jim Brown, have disappeared”
“[There is] daily curfew with a few hours of break. It is still in force from 5pm to 7 am. This has curtailed the regular social life of the people,” he said.
“Most of the telephones have been cut off for various reasons and people are experiencing isolation due to lack of communications.”
The Closure of A9 has created the worst for the people. Families are stranded without transport to the South. Food items have become very scarce.”
“Fishing is prohibited for the last three weeks and the fishermen are affected very badly by this.”
“Though the government’s assurance of dry ration to these people is in the air, yet none have been issued with sufficient amount of dry ration for their living.”
“Foreigners working for the NGOs have left the place except for ICRC and the UN branches. They too have a minimum staff working with them.”
He said 5,000 people from neighbouring villages (Kurunagar, Thirunagar and Passiyoor) began arriving in the school on August 11 whenheavy fighting broke out between the LTTE and the Sri Lankan armed forces further south at Muhamalai.
“They began to occupy the classrooms by breaking the locks, and in some cases the doors were broken completely. They started occupying the entire building including the former Upper School.”
“As usual, they chopped the classroom furniture and used them as firewood. We were able to save some by taking them to the upper floors of Mathews Block,” the Rector said.
“These IDPs are still occupying the classrooms and the verandahs as well,” he said.
“Water is supplied from our well and the toilets get blocked every week or so. Electricity too is provided by the college. The UNHCR is able to assist us with the sanitation of the camp.”
“[Three weeks later] there is no sign of them leaving the College for us to clean it up and conduct classes.”
School reopened for the Third Term on August 31. There was a small number (200) of students on the first day. On the second day, the number on roll increased to 320 and, on the 3rd day to 435 (the total being 1800).”
“We are expecting the number to incrase in the coming week but we will not have the classrooms ready for them. We are making use of the Long Bock, at the moment, for the few students who turned up last week.”
“Cleaning and having the classes ready for the students will only take place after the IDPs leave the place. When will that be? We do not know.”