22nd June 1997


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Living without address and hope


Living without address and hope

By Christopher Kamalendran in Vavuniya

A barrage of mortar fire fell on Pragash Mary’s home and on others in the vicinity in Kumankulam in Vavuniya two weeks ago. Hours later, she was a refugee. Now she lives in a a refugee camp in Vavuniya. She was fortunate enough to get a roof over her head. There are others who couldn’t even get that and spend their time under the trees.

This was the first time she had been thrown out of her home. To her future looks bleak.

"I fear I am going to spend rest of my life in this camp," she said.

There are many refugee camps in many parts of this blessed island- including Colombo, Vavuniya, Puttlam, Batticaloa, Wanni region and Trincomalee. In most of them the conditions are appalling. Children miss their education , youth their chance to build a future.

The conditions of the camps have been worsening over the past few years. Many of them are over crowded, with poor sanitation conditions. Food too, is often short

Nearly one million of the country’s population are languishing in refugee camps from the time the country plunged into the ethnic conflict, some of them having known no other home for more than six to seven years.

And this refugee population seems to be ever increasing

Many people in the rest of the country may be unaware that day-to-day the refugee population is increasing, as on the surface it seems that the refugees are being resettled.

The latest addition to the refugee population was in Vavuniya in the aftermath of the battle in Thandikulam between the security forces and the LTTE.

Overnight there was a dramatic increase of the number of refugees, over 4,000, being uprooted from their homes.

It’s not only one particular community which has been affected by the on going northeast conflict. Sinhalese, Tamils and Muslims have all been displaced from their homes. Some of them are fortunate enough to gain accommodation in a refugee camp, but some others continue to live in temporary structures, in open areas , under tents while few others continue live even under trees. Some schools in the Vavuniya District such as Vattakakachi Tamil Maha Vidyalayam, Saiva Prakasa Vidyalayam, Nelukulam-Kalaimagal Vidyalayam and Vappunkulam Vidyalayam provided a refuge for the influx.

Vavuniya Government Agent K. Ganesh said that he was hard pressed to provide for this new influx of refugees as funds were limited. Earlier the Govt. provided Rs. 50 per adult and Rs. 25 per child on a daily basis but now the new refugees are being given only Rs. 25.

N. Rajamani ,30, a farmer from Samayapuram said he had come to Vavuniya in 1983 after the riots.

"I have no livelihood other than farming so I am desperate to get back," he said. "My children are now deprived of school but it looks like we will not be allowed to go home for a long time."

"I am desperate to get back, but I don’t think I can.’ he said.

The future is uncertain for her also.

"I wish I don’t live a life of refugee lifelong," he said.

This sense of fear is shared by many other refugees including the Muslims who were displaced as far back as 1990 when they driven out from the northern province by the LTTE. They are still living in refugee camps in Kalpitiya.

The conditions are still worsening. This, despite the government spending a staggering four million rupees a day for the refugees.

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