Human Security, IDPs and Refugees, Peace and Conflict, Post-War, Vavuniya

An eye-witness account of IDP camp conditions in Sri Lanka

[Editors note: The dire conditions of internment in camps that are home to well over a quarter of a million fellow citizens are unknown to many. Fears of inflammatory and inaccurate journalism, as defined and seen by the government, debar independent media from access to these camps even after the end of war.

Rohini Hensman’s exclusive article to Groundviews on the plight of the IDPs and Malinda Seneviratne’s pointed counter based on his experience in the camps, as well as the responses to both articles provide the framework of reference for this compelling eyewitness account of conditions in Menik Farm.

This is an unedited account, posted here without verification. Corroboration and competing perspectives are invited from Government, I/NGOs that have had limited access to IDPs, the few journalists who have been to these camps and others who may know of other first hand accounts of camp conditions such as this one in Sinhala.

Based on the belief that the free flow of information in the public domain, especially after war’s end, is a cornerstone of democracy, Groundviews will continue to publish content that stimulates policy and action to ensure the safety, security and above all, human dignity of fellow citizens languishing in these camps.]

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An Eyewitness Account

Condition from camp to camp varies. Zone three is comparatively better of the camps. In Zone 03 the shelters that in front are better but as you walk further and further in, the conditions are not the same.

Even in Zone 03 the water is scarce and the day we went the people had received rice and sugar but no vegetables nor any complementary items to cook the rice with. Brigadier Weerakone who was in charge of the camp was requesting NGO s to provide vegetables as the inmates were not receiving this. Another issue of concern was that there were families in Zone 3 who were separated (for example we met a mother and 2 daughters in Zone 3 and they said the father and the other daughter are in Zone 2). This separation is a serious issue and so far authorities have taken any productive step to reconnect the families.

Zone 2 was quite congested and they were making arrangements to move some of the IDPs to the newly created Zone 5. Here in Zone 2 the NGOs were providing food for community cooking.
There were serious allegations of corruption here as one of the GS (a Tamil) was in the habit of taking what comes to the IDPs for other purposes. Some of the leaders among the IDPs who raised the issue were threatened that they would be the first to be separated and taken to Zone five. Corruption seems rampant in these camps sadly by Tamil officials who are the GSs.

Water queue were seen everywhere. We saw a child scooping water from a filthy muddy drain and take it to their tent. Small buckets, hundreds would be kept in a line near a water source waiting for the water to arrive. There was dirty water running on both sides of the road where drains have been freshly cut.

Flies are rampant and hygiene is a life-threatening issue. The flies are so infinite we saw merchants sitting inside make shift nets and selling things.

Toilets were inadequate. In one camp we saw some of the tents having been removed and this area was being used as open defecating areas. On both sides of the road you could see human waste. We stopped the vehicle to take photographs but the stench was too overpowering for us to stay long. This was in close proximity to where people were staying but in a vacant area .

Zone 4 was the area where the final batch of IDPs who came out are being housed. This is a high security area and inmates are those who were in the vanni in the last stages of the battle. Most of them are heavily traumatized. We saw a child almost bathed in sand. Water again was a major problem here. Living conditions in all camps need to be definitely improved.

Unquestionably there is no freedom of movement at all to these IDPs. They are being kept like prisoners. Many of them have well to do children and relatives in other parts of the country with whom they can stay. We saw an official who works in Colombo had come to see his mother. He drives a luxury vehicle and looks as if he is from the upper strata of the Sri Lankan Tamil society. His mother looks like an impoverished beggar living in the IDP camp malnourished.

There is no registering of people in a transparent manner. Hence even if people disappear there is no way to trace them. The separation of family members (I stress here) is a very grave concern.

Access is not given to NGOs to talk to the IDPs. You go in, give the food and get out. You are not even supposed to take your mobiles in or give the IDPs the use of it. There is an epidemic of chickenpox and hepatitis and other diseases in the camps.

Three of our colleagues who walked with open shoes working in the camps had various foot diseases. One had to have both his toe nails removed. The other had holes in his sole and is being treated. The third has a rash and infection which makes him walk with a limp. If this is the case with volunteers working in Manik farm you should be able to imagine the plight of the IDPs who don’t even have a pair of bathroom slippers to wear. I saw a child wearing a footwear made out of hardboard and elastic and another one covering his feet with plastic bags.

The other issue is the Militarisation of the camps. Camp management need to be handed over to the civil administration. When cutting of trees, moving tents or relocating tents the soldiers are standing with their guns and making the IDPs do the hard labour. This should be done voluntarily by the IDPs rather than making it look like bonded labour.

Other needs are clothes. IDPs are in desperate need for change cloths. People kept asking us especially girls for clothes. There has been distribution of clothes but hardly adequate. Children, pregnant mothers, lactating mothers, infants and the elderly need special care.

Daily people die some time more than 5 -10 a day, mostly children and elderly. This is due to disease, malnourishment etc. The malnourishment did not happen necessarily in the camps. Even in the Vanni they had been near starvation and the journey has made them weaker. To bring a body to Vavuniya they are charged around Rs. 10,000. A few weeks back a pregnant lady committed suicide in one of the toilets.


The LTTE detainees are housed in different locations. There are separate camps for boys and girls. There are around 9000 boys and 2000 girls. Access to this camp can be obtained with defence ministry’s approval only. They are looked after quite well except when they protest or get aggressive. The girls need a change of clothes, normal amenities such as soap, toothpaste, sanitary ware etc.

The problem is that they need regular supplies and the whole day they idle. There are also many wounded girls in the camp some of them are disabled already. They need special medical attention. This is true of the boys too.

Also the hard core LTTE detainees and those who had gone for even two days training, those who had run from the LTTE, come back to their homes and got married etc. They are all in one camp. Those married have been separated from their spouses. There were 37 pregnant girls among the detainees. They had left the LTTE and got married but due to the rule that any one who underwent training needs to surrender they are all now kept as LTTE detainees.

The cry of both the boys and the girls were to see their parents, husbands and wives etc. Even for a few minutes they pleaded. The cry to connect socially to their kith and kin was heard every where. This was pathetic. The boy’s camp had an epidemic of chickenpox and typhoid. They asked for medicines stressing that they had trained doctors among themselves.

There 35,000 children in the camps and out of which around 1,800 are orphans. Below are some of the pressing issues which were shared at a recent meeting on these IDPS:

  1. Freedom of movement and host family options- -i.e. many families have relatives, children they can go and stay with. Yet they are forcibly kept in the camp.
  2. Systematic and transparent registration- names of IDPs are not registered presently.
  3. Transparent screening and feedback to family
  4. Family Reunification: Family are separated (father and one child in one camp and mother and other children in another zone).
  5. Civilian nature of administration- presently the camp is administered by military personnel.
  6. Right to information
  7. Ability for aid agencies/NGO s to talk to the displaced

These are some of the advocacy issues that should be looked at in the next several weeks and these should be revisited in order to ascertain what progress have been made on these issues.

  • justice

    I guess Malinda would arque, this report is fabricated.
    Again the need for free access to media ,transparency in dealing with citizens be it LTTE or civilians and freedom of movement are raised by independant eye witnesses.
    I certainly don’t see any reasons why the non LTTE civilians cann’t have civilian administrator.Even the LTTE detainees should have a single identifiabe miliatary office as Charge de affairs .These are good administrative principle which will engender accountability.
    GoSL has a moral obligation to it’s citizens. R2P. These issues have to be addressed without much delay .Delay would raise questions about sincerity in helping these people.
    Simple measures would go a long way in nation building and building confidence among international community .I hope some GoSL insiders are reading these articles/comments and common man’s concerns.

  • George Gunasekera

    The President H.E.,Mahinda Rajapakse should take the full responsibility for the safety and comforts of all the IDP’s in the vanni camps. As a human being he should not allow any other human being to suffer if there are ways to ameleorate their present living conditions. Being a practicing buddhist it is a shame that the President does not realize the suffering these poor people are undergoing. It is true there are land mines and other military hardware buried in the areas where these IDP’s were living earlier.But most of these people are having relatives who are capable of looking after them till the Government provides them suitable accomodation.Also there may be religious and social service organizations also who are willing to look after these people for a reasonable period. Therefore it is the duty of the President to instruct all the officials who are overlooking affairs of these IDP’s to release all those people who can find someone that can look after them until such time the Government can find suitable permanent accomodation for them. A complete list of people released to organizations or individuals should be published in a Government Gazette for the information of all concerned. It is no secret that there are strong headed cruel officers in the Government who think that these IDP’s should be treated as slaves. The President should not give into them. It is also a shame that influential Buddhist Monks do not bother to take any interest in this problem. A buddhist country should not treat any human bein in a inhuman manner. All those who are in charge of these poor people should realize that they will have to pay for the sins they commit by harassing these helpless people during some stage of their cycle of life. I only hope the Government would not make use of IDP problem to to make money.

  • Dayan Jayatilleka

    Why not carry Kath Noble’s eyewitness account which appeared on Transcurrents?

  • Dayan Jayatilleka

    The truth about IDP camps
    Wednesday, 01 July 2009
    by Kath Noble

    We are constantly told that restrictions on access to IDP camps prove that awful things are happening. If the situation were under control, this hypothesis goes, the Government would allow people to go and see for themselves. So when journalists write unverified stories about disappearances, rapes, starvation, epidemics and more, often encouraged by equally imaginative NGO reports, they are believed. Few of us trust the Government enough to take its word for the wellbeing of the long suffering people of the Vanni.

    I was given permission to travel to Vavuniya last week, and this piece is dedicated to what I saw there. While time in the IDP camps was limited to a couple of days, and I was never very far from the officers who were assigned to escort our party, I believe that it would have been difficult to present a story too different from the truth.

    There are more than 280,000 people staying in about 20 locations. These range in size from the Vavuniya schools with 1,000 people to the 70,000 people in Zone 2 of Menik Farm on the road to Mannar.

    My first impression on walking into Saivapirakasa Maha Vidyalaya on Wednesday was that there were rather a lot of visitors. I hadn’t even realised that they were allowed. Looking in the book maintained by the lady soldier at the gate, 119 people had been in that day, and more were lined up waiting to enter. She explained that relatives only needed to bring their identity card. Many of the visitors were carrying parcels of food to supplement what was given by the authorities, and it was clear from the smart dress of the majority of the 3,000 residents that clothing and other items had been provided too.

    The same was true of all the IDP camps I visited, even places a long way from anywhere. At Menik Farm, we passed a CTB bus that had been laid on to transport people from Vavuniya.

    The next thing to strike me was that it would have been quite feasible to take a photograph of the residents looking through barbed wire, but only with a little effort. There were two rolls of about ten metres in length next to the gate, and my crouching down in front of one of them would have attracted a fair crowd to the other side, even though there was no actual barrier between us. A wrong impression could thus easily have been given. I saw where the infamous pictures of barbed wire were taken later, at Menik Farm Zone 0, and learnt that it was the arrival of a dignitary by helicopter that had attracted people to the very edge of the camp, which turns out to be rather large in area. People don’t normally stand anywhere near the barbed wire.

    An elderly lady approached as our group entered the compound, to complain that she hadn’t been given any soap or washing powder. Whether this was the case seemed after some discussion unclear, and she didn’t look in the slightest bit dirty. It emerged that she and her husband were both over 65 years of age, and therefore eligible for release, but their nearest relatives lived in Kandy and for some reason couldn’t travel to bring them home. Allowing such people to move to a specified location of their choice would seem to be a reasonable alternative.

    We moved on to one of the new sites being established in the countryside between Menik Farm and Vavuniya, called Dharmapura. Our military escort told us that some 15 to 20 locations were being developed, to house the 20,000 people staying in Vavuniya schools and to reduce the numbers in the more crowded zones at Menik Farm. Each family would have more privacy, he said, and there would be space to initiate activities to give the residents something to do.

    It was here that I began to appreciate the tremendous contribution of the Army. When the Government started working on the IDP camps in anticipation of the outflow of civilians earlier in the year, the job was given to private contractors, but it either didn’t happen or proceeded at an appallingly slow pace. By contrast, the Army is able to clear land and put up shelters in just over a week. When the massive influx of civilians arrived in May, they worked for several days without sleep to get the job done.

    By the time I came home, I was convinced that complaints from the United Nations about militarisation of the IDP camps had been counterproductive, because the Army seemed to be the most efficient and dedicated of the agencies involved. Our escort had been in the thick of the battle in Putumatalam, but days later was assigned to the IDP camps. Nevertheless, there were no signs of tension with the residents. People interacted quite naturally with the Army, even small children.

    We saw the benefits of these new sites at Weerapuram on Thursday, where some 6,000 residents had moved in from a number of Vavuniya schools two weeks previously. Although the location was dusty, the advantage of having more space was being demonstrated as our vehicle drew up by a group of boys playing volleyball. If the Government implements its plan to give residents seeds to plant homegardens, the conditions would become quite reasonable.

    The Army’s efficiency was in evidence again. They had built a covered area by the entrance so that visitors wouldn’t be exposed to the elements while they waited to enter, but the agencies responsible for putting up identical structures to serve as classrooms hadn’t started work, so the tables and chairs provided by the Government lay in a pile by the road. Meanwhile, the officer in charge had decided that lessons had better start, allocating spare tents for the purpose.

    I understood some of the concerns about unlimited access too. Having wandered off from the group, a small crowd gathered around me and a retired teacher of English and Sinhala from Kilinochchi was brought out to speak. In a deeply conspiratorial tone, she explained that their children had been taken away from them and many lakhs of people had been killed. Not being fresh off the plane from England, I knew that this was untrue, also because I had met quite a number of their children at the centres for LTTE cadres, but people who come looking for horror stories would leap on such quotes with glee.

    Having lots of outsiders running around probably isn’t a very good idea in any case. After the tsunami, hoards of journalists and aid workers descended on the survivors, quickly instilling in them a victim mentality that has proven difficult to shake. Far better that people be allowed to get on with their lives, as much as possible without observation or interference.

    There is another lesson from the tsunami that could be usefully applied here too. Chandrika Kumaratunga handed over responsibility for the relief and reconstruction work to a group of completely unaccountable business leaders, TAFREN, whose understanding of and commitment to the interests of the affected people was almost zero. Whether as a result or otherwise, clear plans for their recovery took a long time to emerge and even longer to be put into effect. Indeed, we are still reading stories of tsunami projects being completed, four and a half years after the event. While nothing of the sort has been done by Mahinda Rajapaksa, one way of ensuring that the situation in the IDP camps improves as far and as quickly as possible, and that the resettlement moves forward as it should, would be to give political leadership to people with a stake in the future of the residents. Tamil politicians who are already canvassing for votes have an incentive to do their best.

    I saw what the Government can do when it really tries in Menik Farm Zone 0, starting with the piece of cake and ice cold drink that we were given on arrival. Work started there at the end of November, and the results are impressive.

    Each family has their own semi-permanent house, appropriate for the climate. Homegardens with banana trees, pineapple plants and a whole collection of leaves that I couldn’t recognise are set out in front, while sufficient numbers of decent toilets are to be found nearby. Toddlers in blue uniforms are taught or at least entertained by ladies in carefully pressed pink sarees in the preschool. There is a play area with swings and a slide alongside. Beyond that are the post office, bank, shop and telecommunications centre. Older children get their lessons too, including several hundred A Level candidates. There is even a vocational training school, where some of the 20,000 residents are offered courses in woodwork, dressmaking, motor mechanics and computing.

    People here don’t bother to approach visitors. However, when the officer accompanying me asked at the queue for the telephone if anybody could speak Sinhala, a middle-aged man from near Mullaitivu stepped forward. Having started to talk, it emerged that his English was better than my Sinhala, although he was a farmer, so we switched. He had been in the IDP camp for several months and was clearly unhappy, although he stressed that the facilities were acceptable. With a somewhat resigned look on his face, he shrugged, saying that he had nothing to do.

    This should worry those who believe that these people need to be held until the last cadre is flushed out. In Menik Farm Zone 0, the residents are quite comfortable, they have opportunities for education, facilities for games and other social activities, and they can even go to other zones to work as labourers, for which they are paid. Yet they feel their confinement intensely.

    I’m not sure that I see the point in this strategy any longer, although I must admit that I don’t have the expertise in security matters to make a proper judgement. All the LTTE leaders are dead, some 9,500 cadres have surrendered or been identified by the Army and are in rehabilitation centres. Meanwhile, it is rumoured that people with money have been able to buy their way out of the IDP camps. If there were any chance that this is true, compelling 280,000 people to stay on in Vavuniya would be mad. The last cadre is probably already here amongst us in any case, with his or her arms cache intact.

    The Government will face a number of difficulties in trying to provide the same facilities to all the IDP camps, not least the United Nations and its obsession with basic standards. Wanting to discourage the authorities from keeping people for good is perfectly reasonable, but this is obviously not the intention. Even if the Government abandoned its policy of detention, there would still be people in need of a place to live while their villages were being demined and homes reconstructed. A fair number would probably stay on in the IDP camps. So working to minimum needs can only cause unnecessary suffering. I find it morally outrageous too, seeing as United Nations personnel do not work for basic salaries.

    Zone 2 at Menik Farm is as bad as things get, with 70,000 people. Although the situation is considerably better than similar camps in other countries, and indeed better than slums here, it is not good enough for us to sit back and relax.

    White tents are to be seen in what appear to be endless rows in every direction. There are toilets and bathing areas, but not of the kind of quality that ought to be possible with the money available. A middle-aged lady from Bandarawela, whose family has been compelled to move numerous times over the decades, pointed out some of the difficulties. While much of the garbage that had accumulated in the first weeks after their arrival has been cleared up, some remains. Many people have been able to start their own cooking, but not all. There are very few areas in which the residents can gather, other than on a patch of dirt with the sun beating down on them, let alone places suitable to hold lessons for children.

    Nevertheless, life goes on. A group of kids was playing cricket as we passed through. Several residents have turned the front of their tents into shops, selling bits and pieces to their neighbours. We saw one lady busy with a sewing machine. These people coped in much worse conditions in the Vanni, and that’s without considering the dangers of the conflict. Even if facilities don’t improve, they are better off than they were a couple of months ago.

    The stories of disappearances, rapes, starvation and epidemics are clearly propaganda. I know that now, and I am glad that I had the chance to see for myself. The Government deserves a lot more credit for its work than it has been given. The situation is in hand, at least for the moment. Readers may not like to take my word for it either, but there are plenty of others working on the ground on a daily basis. The people that I spoke to didn’t have anything different to say, and it is up to the Government to make sure that none of us have any reason to change our minds in the weeks to come.

    Kath Noble is a freelance writer from the United Kingdom. An Oxford University graduate in Mathematics, she has worked as a researcher with various organisations campaigning on issues of global governance both in Sri Lanka and elsewhere in South Asia, Africa and Europe. She now writes a column for The Island (Colombo).

  • kathsleepswithsinaha

    wow, kath/dayan, can i move into the camps? sounds like a bloody lovely place…!!!
    you’re just a shill for the GOSL

  • pacheez

    The GoSL is well aware of what IDP camp conditions risk and inflict. Supply logistics are solvable as makes some of us Suspicious… why no air drops of food, drugs, dressings? & all else no doubt sitting about elsewhere or diverted for others’ purposes. I write as a Cdn, aware of numerous Cdn Tamils whose kin can be evacuated, their applications processed, but the GofSL claims Tamils are unlocatable.
    As basic registration is not done when persons join camp, one does ‘Wonder’ what’s up, or more likely, very, very low to the ground, in the unnecessary suffering and fatality of the elderly, mothers et al …

    We give your illustrious government $30 Million + per year Not counting NGO matching grants, past balance of payments support; hydroelectric exp at reduced cost; we have done this since the Colombo Plan.
    Is it too much to see to water, a tetanus shot, a hit of ampicillin, & bales of dressing material for a measly 250,000? If NGOs are not admitted then accept their suitable/less suitable gear & see to its distribution.

    Where is the voice of Sri Lanka’s medical community!?! Dehydrated people who cannot get clean will die… or is this the objective?

  • Justice

    Dayan,
    I am sure you would have read Kusal Perera’s article on transcurrents .Regarding the same topic.
    It’s obvious some are playing politics some articles are from spin doctors.The truth will be obvious when more and more journalist have access.
    Here is the transcurrents link for Kusal Perera’s article.
    http://transcurrents.com/tc/2009/07/defining_moments_of_living_wit.html

  • Ragavan A

    To Kath Noble and Dayan Jayatilleka
    Why did Sri Lankan government not allow any access to the final war zone where thousands of Tamils were slaughtered ?
    Why Sri Lankan government is threatening all news papers which are not writing supporting the government ?
    Why the government still not permitting free access to IDP camps and allow inmates to talk to the NGOs ?

    You argument is people are fine in IDP camps. No they are not, they are not allowed to talk freely to anyone because the government fears that it will be caught red handed. Dont support a government which has puts its own citizens in IDP camps and not allowing NGO access and not allowing anyone to talk freely to the IDPs. The intention is clear, it is to terrorize the Tamils so that they will not open their mouth for another decade.

  • Ruki

    Testimonies of families who had visited relatives shows a reality different to Kath’s article http://www.wsws.org/articles/2009/jun2009/slcm-j24.shtml

    On the day I visited the camp, Education Minister Susil Premjayantha and Resettlement Minister Rishad Bathiuddeen were meeting with some NGOs [non-government organisations] in the camp. So we had to wait until they left. Police officers were controlling the people, wielding batons.

    Speaking about the last days of the war, my relative told me: “The military fired more than a thousand shells an hour. The shells fell on people because there was a smaller chance of falling on the land–people were so crowded into a tiny area. About 1,400 people killed on the day when I was injured. I saw this in the hospital. I do not know how many died on the spot. I was admitted to Mullivaikkal hospital. After few days, they took me by ship to (eastern) Pulmoddai hospital. Again I was transferred to Polonnaruwa hospital. Later they brought me to Vavuniya and finally here. They photographed me each time when they transferred me.

    “We are like prisoners here. Why don’t they allow us to go out? The toilets are overflowing. There is a lack of water to use toilets and for other needs. There are some tube wells for drinking water. For that we have to wait in a long queue. We have to bathe in a river running behind the camp. However if we bathe in that river continuously, some skin diseases will spread among us. A doctor visits the camp only once a week. Sometimes essential medicines are not available. We have to obtain a token two days in advance to consult the doctor for any severe illness.

    “We are living with fear. We do not know what will happen at anytime. The foreign representatives who visit here do not know the real situation. We are not allowed to speak with them. When the UN secretary general [Ban Ki-moon] visited, the authorities took half the detainees out of Kadirgamar camp and cleaned it up. They showed him each family with a tent. They took him only to that camp.”

    An elderly person who was leaving the camp with a relative who was released after nearly a month of requests, said: “I think we were the first people who crossed into the military-controlled area after the government announced that we could do so. But the treatment that the young and middle-aged people got and the words used against us made me think that I should have died starving rather than come here.

    “Now of course they have put up tin sheets and thatched roofs. When we came here it was almost like a jungle. Numbers of families had to live in one hut. Because it is hot, people can sleep anywhere but the problems start if it begins to rain. If it rains, you can’t even walk because of the muddy land.

    “Since we came here many of the parents with children have never slept at night for fear that their children would be taken away. There were numbers of such incidents. We had no lights, so nobody knew what was going on.”

    A 60-year-old person who visited a camp to see his children said: “I went from one camp to another searching for the family of my daughter who was in Kilinochchi. Yesterday I went to a camp at Periyakattu in Vavuniya, which opened soon after the government announced its war victory. But visitors are not allowed there. The military considers those interns to be strong supporters or associates of the LTTE because they were there in the war zone until the last minute.”

    * * *

    I went to a camp recently to see some of my relatives detained there. We wrote down the name of the detainee we wanted to visit, his block and tent number and handed it over to the officers, who seemed to be intelligence officers or members of paramilitary groups working with the military.

    They announced our visit by loud speakers. We were not sure whether the message had gotten to the particular relative. However, we stayed in the queue for checking. Officers checked all our bags and parcels, and our bodies. No shopping bags, betel and areca nut, big bags, boxes or hand phones were allowed.

    We had to talk with our relatives through the barbed wire fence. We were allowed just 15 minutes. There were about 60 or 70 visitors talking to their relatives behind the fence, so it was difficult to hear or respond to each other.

    My relative, 19, described his experience under the military’s shelling attacks in Mullivaikkal: “There were pieces of shells in the backbone of my mother. We think the shells were fired by the army. Medical staff would only give medicine without removing the shrapnel, because they said she would become paralysed or unconscious if the pieces were removed. After my mother was injured, I carried her and moved secretly during an entire night, without the knowledge of the LTTE, to reach the military-controlled area.

    “My brother, who is 13, must study in grade 7 and I in the advanced level. But we have not been able to go to school for more than six months. The officials said they would arrange for us to study in the advanced level.

    “They cook meals here for us. This morning it was porridge. For lunch, they gave us rice with soya meat, pumpkin, dhal and dried fish. We may have porridge tonight also. People who were able to find pans were cooking, but when a temporary tent burned down [due to a cooking fire], we were asked to stop cooking.

    “We are facing a huge lack of water and there are lots of flies here. They gave us a floor sheet to put inside the tent, but the flies live on those sheets.” As we talked, flies flocked around our faces.

    Another relative I wanted to meet did not turn up although I lined up in the queue three times. He may not have received the message about my visit. On my third attempt, I met another detainee I know and managed to send things for my relative through him. That detainee, a government employee told me:

    “We are unable to get a good meal. The meals are not tasty—they are just to prevent hunger. I do my job here and they pay me. How many days do we have to suffer this camp life? There is no water here. Smallpox and mumps are spreading.”

  • Ruki

    Testimony of a Doctor who visited to provide medical treatment
    http://www.wsws.org/articles/2009/may2009/spcm-m27.shtml

    A group of us went to a “hospital” located in Chettikulam about 300 kilometres from Colombo, close to Vavuniya. It was, in fact, a school turned into a hospital. There was no residential doctor. Instead, doctors and other health workers from outside treated patients in a camp set up in the school grounds, making use of school furniture and folding beds. There were about 150 patients in the makeshift hospital.

    The place was called a satellite camp of the main Manik Farm camp, where hundreds of thousands of people are interned, about three kilometres away.

    When we were going to Chettikulam, we had to undergo a full security check at the army checkpoint near Manik Farm. We were not allowed cameras, camera phones or any recording items. Manik Farm is surrounded by three fences of barbed and razor wire. Through the fences we could see a sea of white tents. Thousands of people, including men, women and children, could be seen moving about under the hot sun. Trees had been uprooted in order to set up the camp. Hundreds of heavily-armed personnel were patrolling in and around the camp.

    We heard several announcements over the public address system urging unidentified LTTE cadres to surrender. I have read about Nazi concentration camps. I thought these must be similar to them.

    Conditions in the camp were appalling. Having enough water to wash one’s face and hands was a luxury. The water in this area is not good. People were given water brought from bowsers.

    There were toilets covered with polythene and no doors at all. Due to the lack of water, people did not use the toilets and instead relieved their bowels outside. But there was no water to wash after relieving. Food and other supplies were very limited. These people were not treated as human beings and had to live like pigs.

    When we went to the medical clinic, thousands of people gathered around and asked for food and water. This spoke a lot about their condition. Hundreds came to complain about their illnesses. We asked them to form a queue. Within a few minutes, the queue stretched for hundreds of metres. However, we were able to treat only about 500 patients.

    There were soldiers guarding them. The army provided a translator because the refugees were only able speak in their mother-tongue, Tamil. It appeared that they were reluctant to speak, cautious of the guard and translator.

    Almost every child was malnourished, and most had wounds around their mouths. There was no point even talking about the quality of their teeth—many were suffering from lung and throat infections. Others had chickenpox or diarrhoea. For malnourished children, these diseases can be critical. Many required hospitalisation, but we were able to hospitalise only a few as the “hospital” was overcrowded.

    These people had been living in the Vanni. Most of the children had been unable to go to school for years due to the war, as well as the lack of school facilities after nearly three decades of war. Before the army captured the area, it had been under LTTE control. One mother told me that most of the time she had had to feed her children with only rice and salt water. As the war intensified, they had had to pay 1,000 rupees ($US8.70) for a one kilo of rice and 500 rupees for a kilo of dhal. Two tablets of Panadol had cost 100 rupees.

    We could not see any facial expression from the majority of the detainees. They were traumatised. They could not give rational answers and they needed mental health treatment. Mothers had to feed infants with biscuits because they were not provided with milk powder. Ladies’ sanitary wear was not available at all. Almost all the people were dressed in old, dirty clothes.

    It was shocking that there was not a single residential doctor for this camp which housed hundreds of refugees. Every doctor in our team thought the situation in the camp was pathetic. We don’t believe that the government will or can fulfil the sea of needs of these people. Even the most developed country could not do this alone.

    People in the south of Sri Lanka don’t know the real situation in the camps since the government has restricted the news and aid access. The Sri Lankan media does not give a true picture. If people knew the reality, they would help the refugees. People did that after the tsunami [in December 2004]. I am sure of that. They might also condemn the situation in the camps and express anger.

  • Ruki

    I’m yet to verify personally whether below court order is true, but there has been no denial and it should be easy to check by anyone who doubts its authenticity

    District Magistrate Court, Vavuniya,
    Justice A. K. Alexraja, (in front of)
    Case no. B/827/9
    27/04/2009

    ORDER

    From the observations in the mortuary – in the hospital, from the examinations done in front of me and upon the report reasoning, lead me to conclude that the death was caused by starvation.

    As up to date there were 30 cases, the senior citizens have passed away due to the starvation & malnutrition and without any special care for the senior citizens. As like the same there are more than five deaths on daily basis in the internally displaced peoples’ welfare canters due to starvation and malnutrition. Yesterday alone there were 14 death of elders registered. Today registered 14 deaths of senior citizens in the Chittikulam welfare centre. Yesterday 26/04/2009 Sunday Kathirkamam town three senior citizens passed away, almost six hours the bodies have remained in the same place without any removal. I was able to observe with the death enquiry officer, as there were no proper facilities available to care the elders in the welfare centers. More death tolls have been registered due to lack of the maintenance and caring mechanisms.

    As there were no proper caring mechanisms for elders, they were dying, and the bodies were not timely removed, the surrounding is highly subject to the threat of diseases in the area. Instead of caring for the elders – More expenses are incurred in transporting the bodies to the hospital, and conducting the examinations and for their funeral. The laws of the senior citizens and the laws under the humanitarian grounds have to care for the elders, females, children’s and has to be safe guarded specially caring for the facilities of the elders. Based on the facts for safeguarding the rights the followings are the orders:-
    1. All the necessary details about the elders who are above 60 has to collected and made available with the Grama Sevakar (GS) in the concern welfare centers.
    2. All those who are above 60, without any relations in the welfare centers and who are ill are ordered to be sent to the elder’s home and to be taken care of.
    3. Anyone who is ready to receive the elders, who are above 60 is here by ordered to release from the welfare centers.
    The above said orders is to be conveyed immediately to the District Secretary and to report to the courts through concern officers how this order is implemented and concern officers report to court 04/05/2009. The registrar is ordered to issue this order of the courts to the District Secretary.

    Sgd. 27/04
    Justice
    Vavuniya.

    Sgd.
    Registrar
    District Magistrate’s Court
    Vavuniya.

  • Mala

    The most horrific thing about the end of the war is that what many of us in Sri Lanka belived not to be possible is being proving to be true…

    it seems most, if not all Tamils are LTTE sympathises. The e-mails, comments, letters all point to a community incapable of seeing any but their side of the story.

  • malinda seneviratne

    No ‘Justice’, I am not saying it is all fabrication.

    These zones were not ready made facilities especially set up to receive close to 300,000 people. Things were utterly inadequate at the beginning. Today I read the JVP saying that 400 people have to use one toilet. This is not true. The proportion of toilets to population is less than what could be called ‘adequate’ but not necessarily unacceptable. My data shows that in some zones it is 40 persons per toilet. Toilets are being set up continuously. There was stench in some areas, not in others. I didn’t see any human waste, but I don’t disbelieve it either. We can blame ‘inadequate toilets’ and also irresponsibility on the part of those who use the toilets.

    The same goes for water supply. At the beginning there was contamination. Now there are tube wells in addition to water tanks and pipes are being laid to ensure sufficient quantities of water throughout the day. ‘Hundreds of water cans’ is a gross exaggeration. There are lines, yes, as one can expect when there is a scarcity.

    > We saw a child scooping water from a filthy muddy drain and take it to their tent.

    Is this because water is so scarce though? I don’t think so. Children do such things. Parents/elders have a role to play in stopping such things.

    >There was dirty water running on both sides of the road where drains have been freshly cut.

    Yes, this is true. The culverts are yet to be put in place. There is no proper drainage.

    Re the issue of water availability, I know for a fact that people have to walk a couple of miles in certain parts of the Dry Zone to take a bath. So I think people need to count their blessings.

    Each family unit gets rice, dhal, sugar, flour and oil. The I/NGOs provide supplementary and complementary food items but do not cover the entire IDP population. Still, there are Lak Sathosa outlets in every camp where people can purchase what they need…well, as least the essentials. There is an ongoing programme to set up vegetable plots. The IDPs are doing their bit in this regard.

    With respect to cooking, at the beginning it was food packs. Transportation, distribution at the initial stages was bad and the food was on occasion stale by the time it reached the IDPs. Then community kitchens were set up. The next step is self-cooking. So, things are getting better.

    There are flies around the community kitchens. ‘rampant’ and ‘life-threatening’? I am not sure. The healthcare people are not oblivious to this matter and there is an effort to control the problem. A lot more can be done. It

    Flies are rampant and hygiene is a life-threatening issue. The flies are so infinite we saw merchants sitting inside make shift nets and selling things.

    I checked on the alleged chicken pox and hepatitis epidemic. People are falling ill, and yes, some have got hepatitis. It is not of epidemic proportions. One should be careful when using such terms because it is not helpful at all. The hospital in cheddikulam is being upgraded so that those who need to go out of the zones for treatment need not go all the way to Vavuniya.

    I don’t know about corruption, but I am not surprised. On one occasion the Army found arrack being smuggled into one of the camps in an NGO vehicle (I believe an ambulance). I don’t think it is in the interest of the Government or the officers in charge of these camps to encourage corruption. The commanding officers I found were quite amiable and receptive to suggestions and moreover had what it takes to get things done quickly if brought to their notice. So such concerns could be directed to the overall commander, I think.

    The issue of families being separated has been misrepresented in this article, I believe. Authorities are doing the best they can to reunify families. It is not an aspect that has been neglected. The GAs, Grama Niladharis and other officials are doing this on a daily basis. Everyone wants their problems sorted out in the here-and-now and it would be wonderful if that were possible. If I was separated from my children I would not be satisfied by someone saying ‘we are working on it’, sure. What we want and what can have and when we can have it are subject to constraints we have no control over. It is wrong to say the authorities have not taken any productive steps to remedy this situation.

    With regard to ‘freedom of movement’, i have touched on the issue in my article. The mother of the man who drove up in a luxury vehicle looked like an impoverished beggar. Why is the author surprised? other mothers of less wealthy sons look the same. My mother would too, if she was surviving on just one glass of kunji a day for weeks. It is not a question of people having relatives who are able to support them in some other part of the world.

    Looking at comments, it is hard to believe that I/NGOs are not allowed to talk to IDPs. And even if there were restrictions on what I/NGOs can do/say in these camps, I don’t believe it is necessarily wrong/bad, given the track-record of I/NGOs in this country.

    I don’t know who wrote this ‘eye-witness account’ and if his/her colleagues got foot diseases, my guess is that if they had such sensitive feet it was silly to walk in barefoot. perhaps the IDPs have a better immune system. If a few (days? hours?) in the IDP camps saw them losing toenails and acquiring limps, then the camps would be full of cripples, for the IDPs have stayed there for more than a month now (or more).

    ‘Militarization of camps’: the author wants a civil administration. What guarantee that a civil administration would have what it takes to make things better? Govt servants within the camps seem to be cooperating very well with the commanders and military personnel.

    >Other needs are clothes. IDPs are in desperate need for change cloths. People >kept asking us especially girls for clothes. There has been distribution of >clothes but hardly adequate. Children, pregnant mothers, lactating mothers, >infants and the elderly need special care.

    And books too. Exercise books.

    > Daily people die some time more than 5 -10 a day, mostly children and elderly.

    5-10 a day? needs to be verified. i will check on it. i was told 1-2 per day and that doesn’t seem an extraordinary mortality rate. pregnant women are not neglected, though.

    >The problem is that they need regular supplies and the whole day they idle. >There are also many wounded girls in the camp some of them are disabled >already. They need special medical attention. This is true of the boys too.

    the author is privileged that he/she got to see the LTTE surrendees…. I did not get permission. 🙂

    Of the list of ‘concerns’, i think the right to information is important and doable. So too the matter of registration.

    Malinda

  • The Underdog

    I don’t know what to believe. Look left and we’re told there’s people defecating in the open; look right and there are toilets with running water. Who to believe? Open the damn gates for crying out loud. Let the media in, let the people out (if they want out). It’s the right thing to do.

  • Dayan Jayatilleka

    Dear Justice,

    If I had to choose between the testimony of Kusal Perera whose advocacy regarding the LTTE and the war are well known (one of the earliest smart things Opp Leader Mahinda Rajapakse did was to drop him like a hot potato), and the eyewitness report of a non-Sri Lankan Oxford educated mathematician, can you blame me for assigning greater credence to the latter?

  • Justice

    Dayan&Malinda,
    I concur with underdog.
    I dont’t look at once allegiance current or past.I look at substance and the ability of the person has displayed to feel for others.I certainly don’t look at ethnicity of the author be it WASP or not.All I care is people are suffering in IDP camps and lets get releif for them.
    As far as general SL political problem I see some good comments from you and Lionel.My personal stand would be for a fair and just solution based on devolution of powers to regions and local govts.If possible a secular center.I am no politician or a political commentator.Just a well wisher.

  • Yes Dayan you would rather believe an Oxford educated mathematician ‘Westerner” (whose Governments you love to hate), than believe a Sri Lankan Kusal Perera. I dont understand how a mathematician trained at Oxford is good at reporting stuff. Kath’s account just suits your politics.

  • George Gunasekera

    The cruel war is over and almost all apart from those sheltered in the vanni camps are breathing the air of relief. Those who were worrying hearing and seeing the lamenting of people in the vanni camps can comfort themselves to some extent now that significant improvements have been effected by those concerned to make the lives of those unfortunate more bearable.Ofcourse no place on earth is better than home. The Government must try to shorten the period of stay in these camps as far as possible even though these people may be suffering for their own sins of providing security for the safety of a megalomaniac. The general public of Sri Lanka patiently bore the brunt of hunger to support the Government to fight terror and the same public will surely help the Government to provide proper shelter for these unfortunate people and rid the slur of having these degrading camps in our country if a rallying call is made by the authorities.We must make a determind effort towards this end.

  • Justice

    In the interest of balanced approach once has to read all sides of a story now days.
    Here is N.Ram’s report on IDP camps.Some may not like his anti LTTE stand.He is without a doubt a leading journalist of some stature .Hindu is well read in India.
    http://www.hindu.com/2009/07/04/stories/2009070457542000.htm

  • Kumaran

    Kath Noble,
    As we are told, you are an “Oxford University graduate in Mathematics”, you must be brilliant in proofing things, and you have now conclusively proofed that, “The stories of disappearances, rapes, starvation and epidemics are clearly propaganda,” we are lead to believe that the IDPs are in safe hands.

    If you are reading this, can you please enlighten us why do you think your data set is canonical to make this claim? Why should we believe your data set is not flawed or biased [towards GOSL]?

    You state in your article, “While time in the IDP camps was limited to a couple of days, and I was never very far from the officers who were assigned to escort our party, I believe that it would have been difficult to present a story too different from the truth.”

    So, you spent only a “couple of days” in the IDP camps and were “never very far from the officers” and you have proved beyond doubt that these allegations are “clearly propaganda”?

    I am sorry to make this harsh judgment on you, but you sound like a naive foreigner who has been tooled into the propaganda machine of the GOSL, and now you come off like a stooge.

    While many people are very sad and depressed they can’t even string a sentence together, it irks me when someone like you pontificates this much from an orchestrated quick visit. Much like David Miliband landing in Sri Lanka on a quick visit and pontificating on the local ethnic conflict, no?

    I don’t know any of these allegations are true, and I agree with your sentiment that there are journalists who are eager to sensationalize and profit from situations like these. But to make this counter claim from a two day visit on a flawed data set is preposterous and doesn’t seems like objective journalism to me.

    I am a Tamil and never was a supporter of the LTTE. I lost no loved ones in this war, nor do I have any loved ones in the IDP camps. I have no political or personal motive for harping on you like this. My motive for writing this comment here is only humanitarian.

    I agree with some of what you wrote in this article, and appreciate your sincerity when you say “I’m not sure that I see the point in this strategy [these people need to be held until the last cadre is flushed out?] any longer, although I must admit that I don’t have the expertise in security matters to make a proper judgement.”

    I think many people’s lives are being destroyed by keeping them in these IDP camps while they can very well be taken care of by their relatives. I hope you understand this is a life and death situation for many Tamils and many people are worried sick about their loved ones.

    This war is already over and this is no time for propaganda even from an “Oxford University graduate in Mathematics” albeit doing a stint on objective journalism.

  • tariq

    I’m pleased this debate is happening, up to now the over quarter of a million IDPs in the camps have been unable to make their own narratives heard in the national and international media, except perhaps when we hear that one or two have british or australian citizenship.
    it’s essential that these people’s experiences, memories and thoughts be heard on their own terms, and thus become part of that ‘free flow of information in the public domain’ that groundviews is so admirably committed.
    tariq

  • Manushi

    Aachcharya says:” Yes Dayan you would rather believe an Oxford educated mathematician ‘Westerner” (whose Governments you love to hate), than believe a Sri Lankan Kusal Perera. I dont understand how a mathematician trained at Oxford is good at reporting stuff. Kath’s account just suits your politics”.

    I believe Dayan was criticising Western imperialism. It has nothing to do with hating individual caucasians.
    Why on earth should anyone support Kusual Perera simply because he happens to be Sri-Lankan? Could it be because Kath’s account does not suit your “politics”?

  • Observer

    Stop whinging start helping.. There is no point trying to prove who’s accounts are accurate. It is our responsibility to verify things first hand and channel all the material support we can give.
    We went from a ruthless terrorist organisation that bled so much blood to now a shelter, food and sanitation crisis. At least people aren’t getting shot, shelled or stepping on land mines. This crisis can be over come too if we are genuinely committed to helping these people.
    Atuwa kadala putuwa hadala wadak naha.. (No point in breaking the barn to make a chair)
    We can’t undo all that was done to rid of the barbaric LTTE now to let people go w/o screening for certain elements. It’s the same people held in IDP camps that will suffer in the long run.

  • Manushi,

    Oh no i was asking Dayan on what basis he is dismissing KusalPerera’s account while wanting to be cynical about his embracing of Oxford educated stuff as the truth giver.

    I confess Kusal’s version suits my politics. Why do i say this? The bottom line is that no one really knows whats happening there. All those who visit camps are escorted and not allowed to talk to any of the IDPs personally. So we simply dont know. I will believe in Kusal’s account because it fits my interpretation of what this regime is about.

    I am asking Dayan to be open about his politics. So let him come out and say Kath’s politics suits him. Let him come out and confirm or deny Minister Samarasinghe and the GOSL’s claim that this war was won without a single drop of blood.

  • Manushi

    Achcharya,

    I think there is a lot of miscommunication when people try to be politically correct. Simply put, a positive account of the IDP camps has rattled the cage of certain individuals hell bent on bad mouthing Sri-Lanka.

    You say: “Let him come out and confirm or deny Minister Samarasinghe and the GOSL’s claim that this war was won without a single drop of blood”.

    Are you saying that the soldiers donated all their blood before going into battle?

  • Heshan

    Aachcharya,

    Dayan’s background shows that he is pretty weak as far as conviction goes. If I told you he was a support of LTTE and JVP during his Peradeniya days, you might gasp in shock. But it is the truth…

  • Heshan

    Also there is no point in asking him to state his true convictions… he is an ambassador struggling to maintain a positive image of a dictatorial government. Hence the air of superficiality and arrogance in all of his writings. None of the 113 ministers bother to express their views openly – it is a task in futility. Much easier to give a coded message via an interview. Dayan must think that being in Switzerland provides some kind of shield – that is true, to a certain extent. But the enormity of the task necessitates that careless banter is not thrown around.

  • Observer

    Jesus at least these people are getting a regular meal and basic shelter. Do you know the condition in some of the slums that existed for decades and no one bother to notice except speed past them? Do you know how many disabled blind beggars who are out there would lucky to have a piece of bread in a given day? Do you know how many poor mothers, fathers go hungry so their kids can have a meal in this country?
    For f$&@ sake stop playing politics with this. At least come to terms with a heap of people in this country who have far worse of regardless of race colour and creed.
    Achcharaya sorry I have to ack this, how can you wear pants and say it suits your politics?
    If you take kusals account as ur suited script then you should be there at the camp now! Doing what you can to make it better.

  • I have lived through and helped resettle persons who have been displaced by government programs since 1977. I have also visited the camps at Manik Farm and found the conditions deplorable. But I must hasten to add the conditions are improving and improving fast..
    Zone 4 when I first visited it ( mid June) was a hive of flies. today the situation is much better. The main reason for this is that much more water is now being brought into into this zone.
    The numbers of toilets are grossly inadequate. I will not get into the numbers game of how many persons per toilet. the situation is really bad.
    Potable water during the initial days was a major problem, but as I said earlier the situation has improved.
    But this does not mean that the situation is good.
    Medical facilities are nowhere near adequate. Two hospitals serve the needs of the two hundred and sixty-four thousand or more persons.
    A hajor problem is that the staff do not speak Tamil. Another problem is that the hospitals are open only between 10.00am and 04.00 pm.
    I must however disagree with some of my friends who claim that militias operate within the camp and are responsible for abducting/screening people. Ex-militants are not treated any differently re entry to the camps, even those whose relatives are now held within its confines.
    I did learn however that a large number of people who had been held captive by the LTTE were readily identifying their recent captors. These persons were arrested by the military and taken away.

    I will not pretend to know where they have been taken away to or what fate awaits them.

    After all these were the same guys who shot and killed civillians trying to flee from LTTE captivity.

    I do not disagree with Hensman or Ruki on the conditions, but when reporting on a situation one-sided reporting does no one any good.
    I had a good opportunity to speak unhindered to a number of IDPs. Many of the IDPs at Manik Farm were initially displaced during the JR govt-sponsored pogroms from 1977 onwards and whom we had helped resettle during those days. Many of those families were from Sinhala speaking areas and still speak the language. I spoke to a number of IDPs fluent in Sinhala
    So as not to take up too much space I will narrate the experience of 2 particular families I met up in zone 1
    Ms. Sivam was originally a resident of Avissawela and speaks fluent Sinhalese. She and her husband a ‘natamy’ by profession were forced to flee Avissawela during the pogrom of 1983 and were settled in Killinochchi.

    Having set his family up in Killinochchi Ms. Sivam’s husband returned to Colombo where he continued to work as a ‘natamy’.

    His earnings went to educate his daughter and she did him proud when she completed her ‘A’ levels and with passes in Bio and Chemistry. She has completed a one year IT course in Database Application and has a fair knowledge of English.

    She escaped being conscripted by the LTTE as she is the only child in her family. In her conversation she told me she did not not like to communicate in English because of a fear lurking at the back of her mind… she could be recruited.

    Sivamallar’s father returned to Killinochchi in August as the ground situation in the area worsened. He came to be with us” she told us. We fled as the fighting worsened and shells were falling all around. During this time we lived in bunkers. We had no regular food, many people died in the crossfire she said.

    “Did the LTTE not offer you any help during that time I asked them”? No she said. The only food we had, came from the government through the UN and World Vision.

    My father managed to hire some transport and we secretly left Killinochchi. We stayed for a while in Karayar and when fighting started in that area we left for Mulli Vaikal. My father was injured but he went to the town to see if he could find a way for us to leave… “He never returned” said Ms. Sivam… “We left all we had brought with us and ran with a number of other families. The area was quite unknown to us and we did not know what to do, especially now that my husband was also not with us. We went with the others to Vatuwan .

    Here there were no houses or bunkers. We were terrified… On the 17th of May we together with nearly 100,000 others crossed into Omanthai.

    “A large number of young boys and girls threw away their arms and cyanide capsules and joined in the flight out of hell” she said. “Most of those children were between 15 and 17 years” she added.

    “I am sorry for my daughter, just look at her, she has no clothes. We have relations in Kandy and we have spoken to them on e the phone. They are willing to look after us, do you think you could help us to get to Kandy”? There was a desperate gleam of hope in the eyes of Ms. Sivam as she said this.

    Mr. Kumar a resident of Batticaloa greeted us.

    “Two years ago when the situation in Killinochchi was getting bad, I went there to visit my sister who was a teacher at Ganeshapuram. My intention was to bring her back to Batticaloa with me. But the LTTE refused to give me a permit to leave…

    “As the situation worsened we were forced to flee” he said.
    “But why did you not flee to the government controlled area” I asked.

    “We were prevented from going to those areas” he said. Many of us wanted to cross over to government controlled areas but we were not allowed to do this.

    “Instead in January 2009 we fled to Visvamadhu, from there to Thevipura and from there to Iranapala. All the while fighting was raging, artillery was being used. Shells were falling all over the place.

    “From Iranapala we fled to Puthumathalam… at Puthumathalam my sister died when she was hit by a shell on 16.04.09” he said.

    All of this was narrated in a flat voice completely bereft of the slightest trace of emotion. Not even the death of his sister was mentioned with emotion.

    As far as I could make out the people were and are completely drained of emotion.

    Continuing Mr. Kumar said “on 17.04 we were forced to flee once more. We fled to Vella Mulli Vaikal and reached there on 15.05.09 we then moved towards the Nanthi Kadal.

    “When we came to the Nanthi Kadal I came upon a man who had injured his hand and a leg. I carried him across the lagoon. All the while the LTTE kept firing at those of us who were crossing the lagoon.

    “While we were struggling across the lagoon we were taken in by the navy who later handed us over to the military at Vattuwan. Eight others made it across the lagoon with me” he said.

    “We arrived at this camp (Anadakumarasamy) on17 June…”

    Mr. Kumar was suffering from a fever when we met him. He told us he had been to the Indian hospital for treatment and had mentioned that he was a heart patient with high blood pressure problems.

    He said he was only treated for the fever. “Subsequently I went to the Sri Lanka hospital he said. They took some tests and said I would have to wait until the reports reached them.
    What I’m trying to say here is that it is not necessary to attempt to paint the govt. either as a devil or show it as an angel. Lt the facts speak for themselves.
    Another point that needs to be mentioned is that the ICRC is now helping to connect families which have been seperated and have been able to reconnect a large number.

    However a point I have difficulty in understanding is the attitude taken by UN staff regarding the upgrading of the present temporary housing conditions.
    From what I have seen of the conditions I do not believe that within the next three months the IDPs can be resettled in the villages of their origin as these places need to be completely demined.
    If this is not done effectively we will next be watching people being blown up by undetected landmines
    Presently except for zone 1 where temporary zinc sheds have been built on cement floors, IDPs in the other zones live in tents.
    By end August and early September the rains will commence and for those living in tents it will be worse than living in hell as the floors will be flooded.

    Whilst agreeing the IDPs should be sent back to their villages of origin as quickly as possible we cannot live by rules as though they are carved in stone. Laws are made for the good of man and should be applied as such.
    I for one welcome the move to build temporary structures on raised cement’concrete floors as this would keep them safe during the monsoon.
    I also found that IDPs are able to make contact with each other though they lived in different zones as well as with kith and kin outside of the zone.
    But rather than gripe let us try to do what we can for these innocents. We do not need to depend on handouts from different and diverse agencies.
    If each family in this country were to donate a SINGLE MEAL we will have sufficient food to feed all the IDPs.
    Can we give it a try?
    Remember the little boats of Dunkirk?

  • George Gunasekera

    According to a ‘daily news’ paper report on the 8th july,2009, mr.maithreepala sirisena ,minister of agriculture has said that the government spends 250 million a day in maintaining idp camps. After many deaths and reported transfer of about 14,000 odd elderly people out of the camps and detaining thousands of suspects in unknown places there may be less than 250,ooo idps remaining in the camps now.

    That means, according to the government’s expenses an average of one (1) million rupees is being spent on one (1) individual in the idp camp. Daily.

    Instead of spending 250 million rupees in maintaining idp camps holding 250 individuals daily and keeping these idps confined to a small area depriving them the freedom of movement and making them to suffer untold hardships won’t it be more logical for the government to deposit (1) one million rupees against each of the persons in the idp camps in a fixed deposit with payment of interest monthly and release all the persons to find their own way in the country. This would give each person about 8000/= rupees a month even if they get an interest of about 10% per annum which is sufficient for a person to live a fairly comfortable life. The government may call these people and offer them a block of land to build a house when the lands are made suitable for habitation. I hope my argument would catch the attention of the minister of agriculture to get into a serious thought.

  • George Gunasekera

    I am sorry for the terrible miscalculation above.

  • manjula

    Let those who want to stay – stay. Let those who want to leave – leave.

    Prisons have toilet facilities, drinking water, meals, doctors and even gyms and televisions.

    But I doubt anyone will want to move into a prison by choice.

  • kari de silva

    One who gives will get the same. Time will tell.