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The forgotten refugees of Lanka

world Updated: Mar 16, 2010 01:33 IST
Sutirtho Patranobis
Sutirtho Patranobis
Hindustan Times
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Vallidarasingh, mostly skin and bones, chuckled.

“Some Indian wrestler came (to town) and I was named after him,’’ he said in Tamil. It could now seem prophetic; Vallidarasingh has been wrestling with life since 1990 — the year he was displaced by the government when it set up high security zones (HSZs) along the Jaffna coast to fight the LTTE.

Like 55-year-old Vallidarasingh’s three children, Thavarajahsingham’s six children were born, grew up, married and now are ready to have their own children in the Konnapulam (17 km from Jaffna town) camp itself. It has makeshift houses of tin and tarpaulin and a more permanent temple and church.

But no amount of praying has improved their lot or sent them back to their places of origin in 20 years.

They are among the 61,470 people who remain displaced to date in the Jaffna peninsula, UN sources said.

Unlike those displaced in the final stages of the war between the Tigers and the Sri Lankan army (SLA) in 2008-09, these internally displaced persons (IDPs) have spent a life-time away from their tiny plots of land.

The men mostly work as labourers with a thin source of income.

The Ministry of Nation Building gives ration (rice, flour) worth LKR 1250 to a five-member family every month.

Before the January 26 Presidential election, President Mahinda Rajapaksa was expected to announce the dismantling of HSZs in Jaffna. Instead, the government said it would create “buffer zones’’ to accommodate the displaced. But it’s yet to be implemented.

In 1990, the LTTE too carried out their own share of displacing 25,000 Muslim families. More than 90,000 Muslims were asked to leave Jaffna — and four other northern districts — on a two-hour notice.

“Fifty Muslim families have come back to Jaffna since January. Their resettlement has not been facilitated officially. After 20 years, they are desperate to start again,’’ Ash. Shaikh B.A.S Sufyan, Jaffna Municipal Council member, said.

Most of these Muslim families had land and houses in and around Moor’s road in Jaffna. But after 20 empty years, many houses have crumbled and the land claimed by shrubs. For these families, it would take more than rebuilding houses and clearing the bushes to start afresh. And for Vallidarasingh, with the wrestler’s name, the fight is far from over.