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

Two testimonies from families released from Menik Camp

[Editors note: Two short testimonies on the plight of IDPs released from Menik Camp sent to Groundviews highlight significant challenges facing reconciliation and resettlement in post-war Sri Lanka and the urgent need for psycho-social counseling.]

Testimony #1
Around 50-52 IDP families from Zone 5, Menik Farm were brought outside the camp with their belongings and asked to leave without any assistance. No transport provided. No proper documentation was given to prove the release. The military brought our belongings in a tractor until the entrance of the camp and then handed over to us. We walked till the entrance. Once our belongings arrived, we were asked to go home. But we didn’t have any facility to go. We didn’t know where to go and how to go. This happened around 4.30 in the evening on 29th September.

All families had a minimum of one pregnant woman in a family. The total number of individuals were around 170.

5-6 families went to Mannar since they had relatives. But they came back midway since they got checked on the way and sent back to camps due to the reason that they didn’t have proper paper work to confirm their release. Those families came back and asked the camp police to give them a letter. Police officer signed a document and those families went back to Mannar. We don’t know what happened after that to them. Before leaving from camp, we, five families, had asked police to write down our names and ID numbers in sinhala and sign it. These are the only documents we have. Though it is signed by the police officer, there is no official rubber stamp on it. We have gone through very bad things in life. We fear what will happen to us.

Testimony #2
We are 5 families, 17 individuals, staying at this lodge somewhere in Vavuniya town. We are terrified. We were supposed to go to Jaffna and they told us that they will take us to Jaffna by bus. But see what had happened to us. We can’t trust anyone and we are terrified of talking. (This person was literally shaking as he was eating his dinner. All of them had bought food parcels.)

One from the lodge said, “This is charity. How can I let them stay outside. They have suffered enough. Please make arrangements for them to reach their homes safely tomorrow.”

There were more IDPs seen in another lodge in front of this lodge. Not entirely sure, but could be around another 5 families.We don’t know what happened to the rest of the families.

The Government Agent (GA) is unreachable. She had apparently gone shopping, when one called her home.

The UN, one of the persons we spoke to said had tried their best to give these people a ride to Vavuniya Kachcheri. But the GA refused and said that she is taking care of them. She obviously did not. The UN also said that every family has a release slip, which is supposed to be yellow in colour. However, the families in the first lodge said that they didn’t have any such slip.

Update from the field sent to Groundviews, 30th September 2009, 3.40pm SL time

Just a follow up on yesterday’s incident with those 50-52 families. The families stayed back in different parts of Vavuniya went to the kachcheri this morning. They are being assisted there in terms of obtaining necessary assistance for their return. Hopefully, soon they will be escorted to their homes in their home towns.

  • doomed to repeat it

    Sounds like an actual “policy and procedure” needs to be created and publicized. Sounds like there needs to be effective lines of communication, as it looks like the right hand doesn’t know what the left is doing. It also sounds like the Vavuniya needs to get a new GA. I don’t know if is this a policy so much as poor planning and incompetency. The UN guy should be more proactive and push the GA. This situation is only going to get worse as more people are released. Better to solve the problems now when it’s only a few families, than wait till it’s thousands. Wishful thinking on all points, I suppose.

  • punitham

    Every iota of what has been going on in the last 61 years is: i.Welfare of the Tamils is not at the heart of the Sri Lankan government and the government will not allow the Tamils to take control of their lives.

    What does that mean? Degeneration of the Tamils.

  • jansee

    I think UN rep in SL has to be replaced with someone who is more serious in taking up issues that concern the IDPs. His empathy is very noticeable and seems to more of toeing the official mouthpiece of the SL govt rather than acting independently to ensure the welfare of the IDPs.

  • ericsor

    “They are being assisted there in terms of obtaining necessary assistance for their return. Hopefully, soon they will be escorted to their homes in their home towns.”

    This is good to hear. Hope they will continue do their job properly.

  • charlie

    Did this writer help (at lease with 1 kg or rice) his brothers and sisters in IDP camps.?

  • Sohan Bones

    As a reaction to Charlie’s comment:
    1. To the writer of the post: Thanks for the informative post. It is very difficult to get a real picture of what’s truly going on; hence brave journalism like yours helps – Man does not live on rice alone.

    2. “Give a man a fish [or rice], feed him for a day; Teach a man to fish [and give him his rights and dignity], feed him for life…”
    I don’t need to spell out how that’s applicable to Charlie’s question… So congrats, groundviews; your post and Charlie’s comment, is a good reminder to the right minded among us, of the need of dealing with problem with long term solutions, rather than feeling self satisfied (as most of us wrongly do) when we give just 1kg worth of short term “solutions”.

  • raza

    backing the wrong horse leads to issue like this which will take time to be sorted out…
    like when all germans were subject to ill tretament after WW2. wasnt some germans who fought in the army sent to Aussie? UK? and all ? where they had to help in farmlands and local police had them under survelianece..? maybe we can some of these people to UK, EU< norway and canada, US?

  • President Bean

    raza…cant we send the 225 members of parliament…the president and his brothers…their family members and hangers on to the moon? (one way ticket)?

    ps: mind you…only the moon…please don’t send them to UK, EU countries, Norway and Canada, US etc…and mess up those countries!

  • CW

    You all are barking them to be released. When released this is what happens. I do not know how true this story is as many such previous stories proved to be untrue.
    That is why the Govt have been telling all the barking clowns to allow them time to resettle these IDPs properly.

  • punitham

    The government prevents the aid workers from speaking with the detainees inside the camps to make the usual assessments that are routinely done with IDPs to adopt helpful procedure.
    Instead of that they are letting the detainees go away ‘on their own’ so that they will be destitutes. That’s who they forced the ICRC to close down offices in the East three months ago when IDPs are being ”settled” in jungles against their wishes.

    This is genocide, Sri Lankan style.

    Every iota of what has been going on in the last 61 years shows the intention: degeneration of Tamils.

  • punitham

    Re Follow-up…..

    If the aid agencies follow the usual procedure while these people are in the camps, there may be a concerted, healthy procedure of assistance. But this sporadic dumping out of the camps, though followed by kachcheri visits, cannot be part of a planned systemic procedure for justice and peace.

  • xyz

    once you all were pleading to release them. once it was done even partially, you see the problem GOVT is pointing out. so govt should be given enough time to settle IDPS in an organized manner

  • punitham

    Dear xyz
    Preventing aid agencies from speaking with the detainees is a violation of an internationally accepted norm. So, things should go wrong at any point is the norm for the government and some citizens.

  • doomed to repeat it

    Just a quick point about Raza’s comment.

    Yes Germans were interned in the US, Canada, UK, etc., and many did do work on farms and on public works projects. However, they were Prisoners Of War (POWs); soldiers who had been captured or surrendered during battle. That gave them a legal designation, and a degree of protection from abuse.

    They NOT were civilian populations, as is the case here in Sri Lanka.

    In general they were not mistreated, as they were all kept according to the Geneva Convention, which the US, Germany, etc had signed. This, in part, included monitoring by the ICRC, easy communication with loved ones, albeit censored, and a level of care sometimes better their rural civilian neighbors had. None of these standards are being carried out today in Sri Lanka as the IDPs are not legally POWs.

    No, it wasn’t freedom, but it was a far cry from what today’s IDPs are experiencing.

    After the war, most POWs were quickly repatriated. However, this wasn’t done merely by opening the door and saying “OK. Go.” In fact, some opted to stay in the countries of their internment; hardly a sign of cruel treatment.

    This was very different from the Russians and Japanese, who treated their prisoners, even enemy civilians such as expat women and children, with extreme brutality. Of course they hadn’t signed the Geneva Convention, and so there was no one to keep an eye on things. The Germans treated Russian prisoners brutally, in retaliation for the Russian treatment of German POWs.

    So I’m afraid that in this case you’re comparing apples to oranges. The situations are in no way similar.

  • doomed to repeat it

    xyz and CW have a point. The government needs time to figure out a proper procedure.

    But then, the government has had lots of time already. OK, so maybe they weren’t prepared for the huge numbers, but surely someone was thinking ahead about the care of IDPs, and how they were going to be released? Or were they not thinking that far ahead?

    It’s not like the IDP problem suddenly happened out of the blue, out of all expectation. The government knew well ahead of time that there would be IDPs, although, again, they didn’t know just how many.

    It’s been four months since the end of the fighting. Surely by now the IDP officials have figured out a way to get 17 people home? Or is that asking too much?

  • dayan john

    Yes Punitham,

    According to XYZ, and a lot of Sri Lankans, things are bound to go wrong for Tamils & muslims, what ever anyone does. Where is the empathy, compassion, loving kindness preached by the great teacher the buddha ? Is it confined to the walls of the temple, churches, mosques and kovils ? Come on Sri Lankans let’s RE-HUMANIZE ourselves.

  • Observer

    What are the IDPs getting released now? This is outrageous! What about all the people who said they were in permanent detention? How are they going to save face now? This is outrageous! Talk about pessimism. Glass is always half empty!

  • Observer

    daya john, to see the human side of sri lankans, all you have to do is step outside the house and observe poor people. you will be amazed in seeing their compassion, humility and gracefulness.

  • Sohan Bones

    Re Observer’s comment @4:17 am.
    Observer, you have mis-observed the situation and incorrectly concluded that it is pessimism. You see see, this is not a situation of the glass being half full or half empty; rather it’s a situation of the glass being very slightly filled… with poison. That’s worse than an empty glass, ain’t it?

  • Jansee

    Dear friend, this to our mutual “friend” – Off the Cuff–who is afraid of the truth and running away like a coward , when exposed.

    Readers will gauge from the acidity of the remarks, is a canard of Sri Lanka failed state.

    The sheer chutzpah of these creatures is nothing novel.

    It’s in fact an arm of what transpires in that so called ‘socialist republic’ today.

    Morally bankrupt and regrettably, nothing social!

    Such persons are paid to paint the GOSL in all its squeaky clean purity.

    So have some pity, it’s a taxing job!!! 🙂

    When I read through any shameless canards comments I realized they‘ve lost the plot and not responded to at all apart from some gibberish.

    For the sadly deluded minions of the Mahavamsa (and pitiable stooges of Bloodthirsty Sri Lankan Regime).

    Shameless Canards play the same record over and over again:

    Mahinda’s stooges have been given a biscuit to endorse their master verbatim.

    The barking will cease when the bowl is empty (IMF anyone?)

    Truth does not need a patron!

    May the Triple Gem save poor Sri Lanka

    Some words of enlightenment for the not-so literate, you’d be wise to heed it:

    “A dog is not considered a good dog because he is a good barker.
    A man is not considered a good man because he is a good talker.”

  • Observer

    Sohan Bones, you just galvanised what I said and took pessimism to a whole new level.

  • BDS

    That is what the Am.ericans did after WW II . Allowed Japanese Americans to go from Detention camps one year after the war ended.
    . Go where I asked. At least they gave them a rail ticket to go to any place in the States. There was a warning about going to the East, however. People were waiting to kill them.And they did. and burnt their properties. So why blame Americans/ They have taught everyone a few lessons, haven’t they?

  • doomed to repeat it

    BDS is right to point out the Japanese internment during WWII in the US. It was flat-out wrong, and today most Americans will agree that it was an unjust, horrible thing.

    Which I think is the point.

    That was 60-odd years ago. The whole world knows better now, or should. Just because stupidity happened in the past doesn’t mean there should be stupidity now, ESPECIALLY as we are all aware of it.