The Muslim question and resettlement of Muslim IDPs in post-war Sri Lanka: Two comprehensive interviews

The question of Muslim identity, displacement and forcible evictions during war and their enduring socio-political impact in post-war Sri Lanka is often underplayed in the media and mainstream politics. Muslim IDPs in the East are amongst those who have been in IDP camps the longest, often in conditions no better than Tamils interned in Manik Farm. Their plight has been covered on Groundviews on a number of occasions including,

Twenty years after the Muslims were evicted from the Jaffna peninsula by the LTTE, the scars of war still remain, resettlement continues to be vexed issue and concerns unique to the Muslim community even more marginal to mainstream politics than the fulfilment of legitimate Tamil aspirations.

The following interviews, conducted in late 2009 and March 2010, look at these issues in detail.

Dr. Farzana Haniffa, Senior Lecturer, University of Colombo describes at length the Citizen’s Commission to investigate they expulsion of Muslims from the Northern Province by the LTTE in October 1990. Vital background reading in this regard is Dr. Devanesan Nesiah’s recent submission to Groundviews on the workings and raison d’être of this commission. As Dr. Nesiah notes,

The task of reversing ethnic cleansing is difficult but necessary. As I see it, the main task of this Commission is to push for and facilitate the resettlement of displaced Muslims back in the locations from which they were evicted. The displaced population needs to be motivated and helped to return. The conditions, facilities and inducements must therefore be attractive and the obstacles to return must be minimized. Particular attention needs to be paid to promote acceptance of the return on the part of the local communities among whom the returnees will resettle.

Dr. Haniffa explores this issue in greater detail, including generational tensions of return amongst the IDP camp populations, gendered concerns and those pertaining to livelihoods as well as inter-ethnic tensions framing return and resettlement.

This interview with A.M. Faiz, Director of International Affairs of the Sri Lanka Muslim Congress was recorded in late 2009. Whereas Dr. Haniffa looks at the issue of resettlement, this interview concentrates on the political identity of the Muslim community and how their aspirations can be met in post-war Sri Lanka.

The interview goes into the key challenges faced by the Muslim community in particular during the three decades of war. Importantly, the interview looks at the future for political parties anchored to a specific ethnic identity, in light of news at the time that the Sri Lanka Government would ban political parties with ethnic or religious labels in their names.

Faiz also touches on the issue of IDPs languishing in camps in the East and laments the significant lack of political leadership in Sri Lanka to facilitate the return of these displaced Muslims. Speaking on the multi-million rupee plans for Northern and Eastern development, Faiz notes that nothing much is in the public domain and that there has been little or no consultation with communities on the ground in the formulation of these plans.

  • ahamed

    i believe that state should spend funds to send these muslim IDP’s first back as they have been in camps much longer than the new ones. we should try to get help from saudi or pakitstan iran and help these people immidiately and expediate the land and other issues.

  • rizan

    While international attention has focused recently on the thousands of ethnic Tamil IDPs displaced near the end of Sri Lanka’s 26-year conflict, analysts and aid workers have expressed concern that the Muslim IDPs will continue to be overlooked.

    “While we recognize the urgency for the resettlement of the IDPs, northern Muslims are worried that there is hardly any acknowledgment of their existence and needs, and they are left out of any planning of the entire resettlement process,” said Shreen Saroor, a Muslim IDP and activist.

  • Tanuja

    The Commission, particularly Dr. Haniffa’s work is indeed commendable. Let’s hope that long term displacement issues are really taken aboard as part of post war R&R and that, in terms of Jaffna, the Tamil community is able to embrace the returnees with sensitivity and foresight.

  • Tanuja

    A correction to my comment above- it should read as ‘in terms of the North’… not Jaffna!!!