â€œWe can’t send them back to a place where there are just jungles.” (President Mahinda Rajapakse, in an interview to the Hindu, 6th July 2009, referring to resettlement of people displaced from the North)
Perhaps the President is unaware that even as he cites the above as reason for delays in resettling people displaced from the Vanni, his government has started to dump displaced people in the East into remote jungle areas infested with wild elephants, against the wishes of the concerned people.
Savukady is a small village near Chenkalady, a few kilometers inside from the A4 main road to Batticaloa from Chenkalady. Most of displaced people in Savukady have been displaced several times.
On 18th June 2009, the Divisional Secretary (DS) together with the Police and Military had forced around 57 families to resettle in Pullumalai area.
I met a woman who had fainted and had to be hospitalized. Eyewitnesses had seen crying women pushed inside buses, youth physically dragged inside the buses and an elderly woman verbally abused while walking slowly towards the bus helped by her husband. At least two families who had children in school were forced inside the buses without their children. People were told they should move to an adjoining camp, and when they had packed their belongings, they were forced into buses. Some people who were forced to leave were not even allowed to take their belongings.
These people were told that those who do not resettle will not be provided any food rations by the Government and that no NGOs will be allowed to provide food rations. People who managed to avoid being forcible resettled and remain in Savukady confirmed that they had not received any humanitarian assistance for more than three weeks, at the time I met them.
Several of these people told me that the main reason they do not want to go back is due to fear. They had experienced and seen with their own eyes, abductions & killings in Pullumalai and nothing had been done to assure them that these things won’t happen again. I was told that about 50 persons had gone missing between Pullumalai and Karadiyanaru on the A5 road, since October 2008. I met family members of a man who disappeared on 2nd December 2008. Another person who went with him is still reported as missing. The body of the 3rd person who went with him was found later and in order to get the body released, the father had to sign a letter saying the person was a LTTE member. Fear was also expressed of being surrounded by Sinhalese villages and threats caused by wild elephants.
Many of the people I met told me that they own several acres of land, but they preferred to lose these than go back.
In Pullumalai, along the lonely A5 road at the 257thkm post, I met 30 families from Velikakandy who are now staying in a small school beside the main road, after being forcibly sent back from Savukady. They told me that their original village, Velikakandy, is a few kilometers interior, but that they fear to go back to their own village.
Government officials had promised to provide land for them and assist with housing materials, but three weeks after being dumped on the roadside in an area surrounded by jungles, they were still waiting. The only shelter materials these people had received were from the ICRC. (Since then, the government had told the ICRC the need for its services was decreasing and subsequently, the ICRC had closed its officers in the East)
Moving further on the A5 road towards Mahaoya, I met some of the families that had been dumped on the main road in Periyapullumalai. (I was told 37 families were dumped on the roadside). Again, it had been the ICRC that had provided some shelter materials. But fearing to go interior to their own villages, these families had opted to stay with families living on the side of the main A5 road.
These people do not have access to livelihood, particularly cultivation and fishing in the nearby tank. A few have tried to do casual work. Amongst the families that were forcibly sent to Pullumalai, almost all school going children had gone back to Savukady.
Food rations provided on 18th June in Chenkalady to the people who were sent to Pullumalai had been thrown away, as they were not fit for consumption.
On 16th June, a similar incident had happened, when representatives of the Eastern Provincial Council and security forces had forced displaced people to vacate the Kirimutti IDP camp, threatening and shouting at people that their rations would be cut, shelters destroyed and that they would have to eat sand and live and in the dust unless they left Kiriimutti. The alternative promised had been a private land after 2 days of staying at the Kiliwetti transit camp in the Trincomalee district. The displaced people had pleaded to be allowed to stay in Kirimutti, citing bad infrastructure at the Kiliwetti transit camp, that their children were attending school in Kirumutti and they have been displaced several times over a long period of time and that they wish to get back to their own land or to a place which will serve as a durable solution for their displacement. These pleas were ignored and officials had forced people to leave, beating side parts of the houses with sticks, removing and destroying shelter and infrastructure in the camp and forcing people into buses.
So the same government that does not allow the displaced from the Vanni in the North to go and live with their friends and relatives and holds them captive behind barbed wire, is forcibly taking displaced around Batticaloa and dumping them in places they do not want to live even for a few days.
What is clear is that relocation and resettlement will be decided by the government, with scant regard to fears, aspirations of the concerned people, as required in the UN Guiding Principles on Internal Displacement.