Valalai is a Tamil village of about 233 acres that was occupied by the military for nearly 25 years and before it was handed back to villagers in March 2015 by President Sirisena. Yet, more than 50 days after that handover, villagers don’t see hope for resettlement as almost nothing has been provided for them to resettle into. I met a few villagers who had already decided to stay there in makeshift tents and huts and few others who had visited for the day. I was told that only about 10 out of 155 families are staying there and that a few others visit for the day.
A few people, including members of the Catholic Clergy, told me that they had seen several buildings that have been standing a few months ago when the area was under the military, but that these appear to have been demolished by the military just before the handing over of the land to people.
No permanent or temporary housing has been provided. Women I met expressed their fears to living in open tents and huts.
No proper water service exists. There is one well with drinking water for the whole village. When I visited, I saw another well being cleaned by staff of the Halo Trust. A bus runs just twice a day. No dispensary, school or even pre-school is there. Before, children had attended nearby schools in Palali and Myliddy, about one and half and three kilometres away. But there is now no access to these due to the presence of military.
All the villagers I spoke to said they were compelled to leave their village on 13th June 1990. No rent has been provided for the land and other buildings occupied by the military illegally for nearly 25 years. A significant amount of land and buildings belong to the Catholic Church. These include a Church and residence for the Catholic Bishop and Catholic Clergy, and these have also been destroyed and not rebuilt. No compensation has been provided for livelihoods lost, particularly due to inability to engage in fishing and cultivation. the inability fish and cultivate. And still, no promises have been made to rectify these issues.
Mr. N. Vethanayahan, Govt. Agent and District Secretary, Jaffna is reported to have visited Valalai on 2nd April 2015 and held discussions with with the people regarding their needs, after which it was promised that action would be taken to address the issues related to housing, drinking water and transport. But no villager that I met knew what was being done.
A military barrier guarded by an armed uniformed soldier separated the land that has been released to the people and the land that remains occupied.
Several villagers told me that the military has insisted on registration with the military, in addition to the usual registration process by the civil authorities such as Grame Niladhari (Village Official), Divisional Secretariat and District Secretariat. The military has demanded copies of all family documents, as well as photographs of families. In some cases, the military has visited families to take such photographs themselves.
It is indeed positive that the new President has started a process to hand over some land occupied by the military to people. But many questions came to my mind about the resettlement process. Why were even the basic preparations, such as temporary shelter, water, transport, health, educational services not arranged before the resettlement? Will the people be compensated for the long time their lands and properties were occupied, the income lost and the cost of reconstruction of properties and getting back to normal life? And why is the military engaged in collecting information and photos of people coming back to reside?
(All photos taken by the author on 13th May 2015, two months after land was officially handed over by President Sirisena)
 Valalai is Grama Niladari division J 284, situated in the Valikamam East (Kopay) Divisional Secretariat Division in the Jaffna district, in the Northern Province
 Villagers I spoke to said the village is 233 acres. But the Minister of Resettlement has been quoted in the media as saying the village is of 236 acres (http://srilankabrief.org/2015/03/pm-appoints-exploratory-committee-jaffna-hsz-land-release/).
 According to de-mining group Halo Trust, 283 families had come for registration to Valalai on 13th March (http://www.halotrust.org/media-centre/news-press-releases/halo-facilitates-return-almost-300-families)