Identity problems for tsunami survivors
By Apsara Kapukotuwa
The tsunami spared nothing in its path and many of the survivors who are now trying to pick up their lives and move on, face several hurdles that were not apparent at first.

The loss of their national identity cards, birth certificates and in some cases, their passports are bound to pose more than a few problems later on. Registrar General L.K. Ratnasiri says the immediate problem is the issuing of death certificates. Those who have been identified are being issued death certificates on a report furnished by the coroners. Those who have not been identified pose the chief dilemma.

"Regarding the bodies that have been buried unidentified and those who are still considered missing, a solution will have to be found later. There was a regulation covering those persons who disappeared during the 1989 terror period, and its validity was extended every two years until December, 2002", he said.

"The good news is that immediately before this disaster, I took measures to get Cabinet approval to bring about similar legislation. I was thinking of the floods and landslides in Kalutara and Ratnapura at the time. The draft contains a cover for natural disaster. The final draft will be presented soon. This will provide for the issuing of death certificates even years later, once an application is made," he said.

He said the issue of fresh birth certificates to the displaced is being placed second at the moment, as priority has to be given to the issue of death certificates. "It is a fair assumption that everyone in the nearly 700 camps will have to start life afresh. We are thinking of having mobile services in those areas eventually to solve the problem," he said.

Mr. Ratnasiri said that since the Divisional Secretariats at Hikkaduwa and Weligama are severely damaged, the necessary documentation would have to be retrieved from the Central Record Room in Colombo, where copies of all certificates are kept.

He also said that the destruction of the Matara Land Registry ruined all land deeds and birth, marriage and death certificates housed there. The damage to the Pottuvil Divisional Secretariat is yet to be ascertained due to the impossibility in travelling to the area as a result of floods, he said.

Registration of Persons Department Commissioner Abeykoon Bandara said matters could be sorted out but will take time. "Blanket decisions are not possible, so we will have to go case by case. Some people might remember their ID numbers and that might help speed things up. For those who don't, the necessary information is all here - the grama niladharis and the Divisional Secretariats can help," he said.

He said a final decision will be taken this week in consultation with the Ministry of Public Security. Those who have lost their ID cards are advised to collect as much information as possible about them and furnish the information to the nearest police station or grama niladhari. They are also reminded that they could find out the information required for submitting applications for ID cards from other documents that may not have been destroyed.

Immigration and Emigration Controller E. Jinadasa is of the opinion that precautions should be taken in the case of passports reportedly destroyed. "Decisions have not yet been taken since we need to get legal clearance. We need to get the lists of the affected areas from the Home Affairs Ministry and Provincial Secretariats. A Cabinet paper in this regard is already prepared. Things can go forward once it is approved. This is a precaution since anyone can say all his documents were destroyed due to the tsunami," he said.

Mr. Jinadasa also said the surcharge of Rs. 10,000 imposed for issuing a new passport in place of a lost passport may be waived. He plans to appoint 3 officers to deal exclusively with this matter and grant necessary concessions where necessary.

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