Bungling and nightmares at the “open camp”
IDPs in Vavuniya welfare villages
By Nadia Fazlulhaq

Displaced persons living in welfare camps in Vavuniya are facing fresh problems after government declared them “open camps”.

The sudden decision to permit the movement of people without proper procedures being put in place has left many stranded without the means, cash or plans to reach their homes. As a result, many IDPs who left the camp on December 1 returned the same day. This was the case with the IDPS who left the camp on the next two days.

Of the 9,143 IDPs who left the camps on December 1, about 5,000 returned the same day. The next day 6,900 people left but 1,992 returned the same day. On December 3, about 6,400 people left the camps but 2,766 returned.

After over six months of confinement in Govt. welfare villages IDPs happily make their way out of camps. The smiles tell their own tale.

Within these threes days, of the 22,443 IDPs who left the camps, 9,778 returned. According to officials, still some 105,000 IDPs remain in Vavuniya camps which originally had some 282,000 IDPs.

In additions, 1,738 IDPs live in Jaffna, 2,290 in Trincomalee and 2,302 are being treated in various hospitals.

The Sunday Times learnt that the IDPs had not been informed of the procedures and forms to be filled prior to their leaving the camps. In some instances sufficient numbers of forms were not available while officials were not informed of procedures to be followed.

As a result, some IDPs had to wait for a long time to go through registration. IDPs in some camps said they were not even allowed to take their meagre belongings, while in others the numbers allowed to leave the camps were restricted to one per family or two. Several incidents of families not being allowed to leave the camps together were also reported.

Many had registered to leave the camps and visit friends and relatives in camps in other zones. Officials in some zones permitted this while in others it was not allowed.

The Sunday Times learns that the IDPs were also asked to obtain temporary passes after filling the relevant forms. However, these forms were in short supply and as a result the IDPs had to face many inconveniences.

In one zone, the IDPs were asked to make photo copies of the form. The photo copying service available at the camp charged Rs. 20. Those who found that too expensive had to go to the District Secretariat office where it cost between Rs. 8 -10.

Hand-written forms too were accepted, provided it contained the required information. Although authorities stated that no time limit would be imposed on those who left the camp to return, there were reports that some were told they could stay out only upto 10 days.

IDPs were told on returning, they would have to re-register at the registration point and return their half of the form to the camp management office. According to local NGO officials in zones 1, 3, 5 and 6 of Menik farm, structures had been set up at the entrance to the sites with counters and booths to facilitate the flow of traffic.

In Zone 1, IDP volunteers involved in camp management recorded in a ledger the name and contact details of the IDPs wishing to leave the zone and issued a serial number. The IDPs then proceeded to the Military Police post at the entrance and had their bags checked.

In Zone 3, volunteers and police sat side-by side at the counter, and after the volunteers recorded the information on the pass into a ledger, the police took down the same information for their own books. IDPs were not made to wait, but were free to leave once they were issued a serial number.

However, it is learnt that the situation in Zone 4 was much less orderly with large groups of IDPs made to wait outside the secretariat office even at mid-day. After filling in the relevant forms and getting them certified by the Grama Sevaka officer, the IDPs were made to wait while the information in their form was checked by those involved in camp management.

It was reported that in Zone 5, one family waited from 7 a.m. at the registration point, only to be released at 1.00 pm. Meanwhile, NGOs based in Vavuniya also stated that there had been an increase in screening in the weeks immediately prior to the opening of the camps. They claimed groups of IDPs from several sites were taken to rehabilitation centres.

However, Resettlement and Disaster Relief Services Minister Rishath Bathuideen said all necessary forms had been sent to the GA and announcements were made within the camps on procedures to be followed.

“We have not allowed outsiders to enter the camps as it would affect the administration of the camps. Meanwhile those who decide to live with relatives will be considered as living with host families, he said adding that others who leave and do not return will not be entitled to resettlement benefits. The Minister said the main objective of allowing freedom of movement was to accelerate the resettlement process.

Disaster Management and Human Rights Minister Mahinda Samarasinghe said around 70 percent of the IDPs had been resettled in temporary transit camps until de-mining in Killinochchi, Mullaitivu and Mannar was completed. He said though demining was in progress a large area was yet to be cleared.
About 24,038 anti-personnel mines, 19 anti-tank mines, 8,026 UXOs and 62,282 small arms and ammunition have been found by demining agencies since January 2009.

Military spokesman Brigadier Udaya Nanayakkara said more than 800 army personnel along with seven other international de-mining agencies were involved in the de-mining process.

According to sources in the District Secretariat, the Vavuniya town is overcrowded with IDPs as most of them are not opting to settle in their original areas since no facilities have been provided.

The World Food Programme (WFP) said that it would continue to co-ordinate with the government to provide dry rations as there is little opportunity for those who have been resettled to resume their livelihood.

“Though the resettlement process has been accelerated most of the lands are not tended. Therefore, the WFP will be co-ordinating to provide food items for a particular period of time,” a public communications officer told the Sunday Times.

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