From temporary shelters to homeless?
As the third anniversary of the tsunami approaches, some of the tsunami victims now housed in temporary shelters may soon be homeless, The Sunday Times learns.
Officials of the People's Planning Commission, an independent commission that looks into the issues of the tsunami affected, said residents of five campsites in Colombo - (Molpe Sobitha refugee camp, Dehiwela, Sunandopananda camp, Egoda Uyana, Jayagathpura, Moratuwa, Salusala Watte, Ratmalana and Kotelawalapura, Ratmalana) face eviction while those living in campsites in Amparai and Trincomalee areas too have been asked to vacate them.
"Everybody is so hyped up about the temporary shelters as it is the third anniversary of the tsunami and it is going to be really bad to say that there are people still living in temporary shelters," Senior Researcher for People's Planning Commission, Jake Oorloff said.
"These people can't even make an entry at the Police station saying that they are forcibly evicted as the Police sometimes refuse to take down their statements. Also they get harassed due to their ignorance because they are ordinary people who are completely dependent on the Grama Sevaka or whoever else is in charge of the camp. They are not aware of their rights and the legal framework either," Mr. Oorloff said.
When the Sunday Times visited the Kotelawalapura tsunami camp in Ratmalana which is home to some 21 families (about 40 children, of whom 10 are infants) on Wednesday, people complained that they were asked to vacate the camp located within the Kotelawalapura Maha Vidyalaya by the officials that day. They have received only the initial payment of Rs. 250,000 to purchase a plot of land of the Rs. 500,000 which was promised to them under the relocation policy.
"They tell us to take our belongings and leave this camp in order to make the balance payments. But where are we supposed to stay with our children? There is only the bare land…because we were paid to purchase a plot of land but not to build a house," they lament. "We barely have anything to eat, so how can we afford to put up takaran sheds even in the lands we bought?"
According to H.M. Sampath, the power supply to the camp was disconnected about a month ago while their water supply too is gradually being reduced. "We were told that the toilets will be demolished and today they removed the water tanks too," he said."Different people in this camp itself are treated differently. Some families received a land and a house built on it by the Red Cross while some of us got the money only to buy a land. But there are some who have not received anything, not even the initial payment given for the land," he said.
Nilmini Renuka, a mother of three claims that she was not given anything as she was put to the category of 'sub families'. Prior to the tsunami, she was living in a separate house built on the same land where her mother was residing with her son's family in another house. "Now that my mother has got the money for a house, the officials tell me to go and stay with her. But it is not possible for three families to stay in one house. Besides, on what grounds do they consider me a sub- family when I was living in a separate house although it was on the same land?" she asks.
The Social Services Officer of the Ratmalana Divisional Secretariat Sunil Rajapakse who was present when the water tanks were being removed from the camp says their repeated requests for the residents to vacate the camp site after getting the initial payment of 250,000 were not heeded.
"We no longer can keep this camp here as it disrupts the school, especially at a time when the G.C.E O/L examination is on. They are supposed to put up a small 'takaran' shed to occupy the land they purchased following which we could grant them the balance Rs. 250,000 which will be given to them in four instalments to build the house. We want to make sure that the money they get is not misused as there are many instances where these people have wasted money on alcohol and drugs," he said.
An official letter will be given to those who vacate the camp whereupon the beneficiaries can produce this letter to the Divisional Secretary to obtain the voucher which makes them eligible to receive the payments from the bank, he said.
Asked what action they would take if these people refuse to vacate the premises, the officer said that the government will take a decision about those who are not willing to vacate.
"The problem is that there is no set policy at all from the part of the government - there is no transparency or accountability- and the fact that people do not have access to those new policies introduced," Mr. Oorloff said.
Coordinator for the People's Planning Commission Sugala Kumari said there had been instances where the cheques received by the beneficiaries got returned.
"What happened to the aid that the government received for the purpose of relocation? The question arises as to whether the donor built houses are being given to those who really deserve them, the Coordinator said.
Meanwhile there had been a complaint to the People's Planning Commission on Wednesday evening that the Police, Grama Sevaka and others who have visited the Kotelawelapura camp have threatened the people asking them to leave.
No forced eviction
Residents of the tsunami camp are not being forcibly evicted but those who received the cash grants to purchase a land, should vacate the premises as they will receive donor assistance to put up a shelter the Director, Housing, Tsunami Reconstruction Project Unit attached to the Ministry of Nation Building, Ramesh Selliah said.
"Once they receive the money and purchase land, they should vacate the temporary shelters as they can no longer occupy that place. IOM will then extend the support to put up a shelter," he said.
Asked about the disparities where some families get donor built houses while others receive only the money to purchase the land, Mr. Selliah said that private donors such as the Red Cross operate on their own whereby they select the beneficiaries depending on the availability of funds and that the government would have to build houses for the rest.
As for the cheques getting returned, Mr Selliah said that he is unable to comment on that.