One and a half years after Maithripala Sirisena became Sri Lankan President, thousands continue to live in camps of internally-displaced persons (IDPs) or with relatives, waiting to return home, says a California-based policy think tank, according to The Hindu newspaper.
In its 16-page report, the Oakland Institute has stated that as of November 2015, about 11,500 families (38,500 people) were identified as IDPs. Most of them are living with their friends and relatives. In 32 camps, there were 1,158 families (4,238 persons).
However, an official at the Resettlement Ministry says the number of families in the camps in Tellipalai of the Jaffna district and Poonthottam, Vavuniya, has come down to 1,068 with 3,700 persons.
Finding fault with the way the Sirisena government has been handling the issue of resettlement, the NGO says “it is difficult to ascertain how many of the promised lands have actually been released for full resettlement, and how many households have successfully been resettled. What is clear is that the promises made by the government to date are far below the total necessary lands required to adequately resettle all the current IDPs.”
The institute has also cited a new military camp in Sampur, where the Navy released the entire 237 acres to owners concerned, terming it a “major security concern for the locals who have faced harassment and abuse at the hands of the Sri Lankan Army over the years”.
However, Navy spokesperson Akram Alavi said camps of the Army, Navy or Air Force are there in many cities and towns and the southern parts of Sri Lanka are no exception. Emphasising that no problem exists between the camps and residents in the neighbourhood, he said the Navy has been undertaking many CSR-type activities. “In Sampur, a school has been fully renovated,” Capt. Alavi said.
The NGO pointed out that “the challenges of resettlement when little to no infrastructure remains, lands are not ready for cultivation, and land titles are not clear given communities fled under heavy shelling without papers, represents a huge problem”. Expressing shock over the present attitude of international community towards Sri Lanka, the organisation urged leaders to impress upon Colombo to form “an independent and international” investigation into alleged war crimes , return land to its rightful owners and allow the displaced to rebuild their lives and livelihoods. (Colombo Gazette)