Feature Article

Military clearance only obstacle to resettlement

[TamilNet, Wednesday, 02 June 1999, 07:26 GMT]
The consensus amongst the 1067 Tamil families who have been crammed into four refugee camps in the village of Thirukovil, Ampara, for the past nine years is that they are unwilling to stay in their damaged cadgan huts any longer and want to move back to their homes immediately.

The families were displaced from the villages of Sagamam, Thangavelauthapuram, Kanchikudichcharu and Alikambai in the Ampara district.

A memorandum was recently submitted to the Divisional Secretary (DS) of Thirukovil, Mr.S.Amalanathan, on behalf of the families asking him to take immediate steps to resettle them in their homes.

"We lived peacefully in our villages. We were chased out from our villages by the Sri Lanka Army, nine years ago, on 23.06.1990. Our houses were burnt down on the next day. We left our village with empty hands and came to Thirukovil by foot. For the past nine years we have been living in temporary cadjan huts put up by some non-governmental organisations." said Mr.S.Kandasamy, spokesperson for the refugees.

There are only four wells in the campsite and no toilet facilities.

The health authorities in Thirukovil say that they are unable to provide adequate sanitary facilities as they have not been provided with the necessary equipment and vehicles.

Mr.M. Ramiah, a refugee, said that he was a farmer and used to cultivate paddy on his own land. "Today we are forced to do manual work to earn our livelihood," said Ramiah.

Mr. Kanthasamy said that the while the government had previously given them money to buy their free dry rations they were now given food stamps that could only be used at the co-operative societies.

"In the open market a kilogram of sugar is being sold at Rs: 24/- but in the co-operative society we are forced to pay Rs:29/- for a kg of sugar. The co-operative society in the area is not in a position to supply every thing we need," said Kanthasamy.

The women refugees whom the Tamilnet correspondents spoke to expressed particular concern about the lack of privacy for their daughters, many of whom had grown into young women since coming to the camp as 10 or 12 year old children.

They pointed out that although they were provided with food they did not get clothes. Although they could often earn a little bit of money by doing odd jobs this was not enough to maintain a family, said the women.

Elders among the refugees fear that the conditions of refugee camp life would ruin the social fabric of society.

Two temporary sheds serve as schools attended by about 280 refugee children. Mrs.A.Yuvarjini, the only teacher in the schools, said that most of the children were psychologically traumatised and needed to leave the camp environment and be resettled in their own villages.

The civil authorities agree that resettlement would solve many of the problems being faced by the refugees and security clearance is now the only obstacle preventing the refugees going home.

The Thirukovil Divisional Secretary has written to the Sri Lankan Army seeking permission for the refugees to resettle in their own homes and is awaiting a response.


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