A Parliamentary Delegation of the Tamil National Alliance (TNA) comprising 12 members of Parliament visited “Vanni” on 21st 22nd 23rd and 24th May 2010. We visited the following villages: (1) Mathiamadu (2) Nedunkerni (3) Olumadu in Vavunyia District (5) Thadchanamaruthaimadu (6) Palampiddy (7) Sinnapandivirichan (8) Eaachalavekai (9) Vidathaltheevu in Mannar District, (10) Vathapalai (11) Mulliyawallai South (12) Vannivillankulam (13) Therangkkandal (14) Uylangkulam (15) Thennaiyangkulam (16) Aiyankulam (17) Pandiankulam (18) Nattangkandal (19) Alangkulam (20) Sivapuram (21) Vavunikulam (22) Mallavi (23) Palli Nagar in Mullaitheevu District and (24) Killinochchai Town (25) Thiruvaiyaru (26) Tharmapuram (27) Kandavallai (28) Murasaimoddai in the Killinochchi District.
Our visit and our interaction with the internally Displaced Returnees enabled us to gather information in regard to several immediate concerns of the Returnees. We identify such concerns as the following:
The main items of food - rice, flour, dhal, sugar and coconut oil, are presently distributed under the World Food Programme. This is a major relief for which the people are immensely grateful as the Returnees would otherwise have probably starved. In recent times in some areas rice has not been distributed - instead an increased quantity of flour is given (the Returnees prefer rice). Sometimes there is delay in the distribution of this relief – for instance on their return Returnees are given cooked food for one day, thereafter they return to their Land, sometimes distribution of food relief is delayed leaving them without food for some time. This should be avoided.
Administrative streamlining could avoid the delay. The Returnees are in unison of the view that the World Food Programme should continue until they have harvested their Maha – Mari – Crop, which would be about April 2011. The Returnees do not see any other way in which food would be available to them. If the World Food Programme does not continue till about April 2011 the Returnees fear that they would face starvation. This was the view expressed everywhere. Non availability of vegetables and other cooking ingredients could be avoided, if non governmental organizations are able to work freely in these areas. Unfortunately the NGOs are unable to assist at present. Most of the Returnees do not have the means by themselves to purchase these items now.
We urge that every effort be made to ensure that the W.F.P continues till about April 2011 and that NGOs be permitted to work with the Returnees.
80% to 90% of the Houses in the villages we visited are destroyed or badly damaged beyond repair.
60% to 90% of the original Houses in the villages we visited were brick-built, tiled houses. The rest were mud (wattle & daub) houses with cadjan Roofs.
Housing presents a very serious issue. The arrangements thus far made for both temporary and permanent housing are woefully inadequate. Unless effective remedial action is taken before the wet weather sets in these Returnees will probably virtually live in the open.
What is provided by way of temporary housing material are the following: ten to twelve tin sheets, around 6 poles or one or two tarpaulins, in some areas 8 bags of cement. A hovel 9’ x 6’ in size can hardly be constructed with this material. The Returnees are nevertheless using these materials to construct their temporary housing because they need some shelter over their heads. The distribution of these materials is not on a uniform basis, and there are some Returnees who have not received any materials. Some have received only a part of the materials.
Consequently sometimes two or three families have to manage in one hovel. This temporary shelter is totally unsatisfactory and these Returnees are already facing and will increasingly be exposed to the vagaries of the weather. Arrangements for permanent housing seem minimal and totally inadequate to meet the need. There seems to be no definite plan at present, to provide all the permanent housing required for all the Returnees. Of the 28 villages we visited programmes for permanent housing, to the people’s knowledge, had been arranged only in the following 3 Areas:
1. U.N Habitat building 250 Houses on A9 Highway
2. SEED building 250 Houses at Kanagarayankulam South
3. N.E.K.P with World Bank assistance building 265 Houses at Vanni Villankulam
People not knowing of programmes in the other areas could only mean that there were no arrangements.
Rs.325,000.00 was being advanced to the people in instalments to build houses. The common view expressed by all was that this amount was inadequate to build even a small permanent house.
We were informed that semi permanent housing at a cost of Rs.80,000.00 per unit was being provided by IOM at Vanni Villankulam.
Speedy action is called for in the matter of housing. Every returnee family whose house has been destroyed/damaged beyond repair should be given a small permanent house costing a minimum of at least Rs. 500,000.00. We earnestly urge that this could be the minimum sum.
The occupation/livelihood of the Returnees in most areas visited by us was paddy cultivation, growing vegetables, fishing in some areas and animal husbandry.
Substantial income was generated through paddy cultivation and growing vegetables. Some of the Returnees who returned to their villages earlier have cultivated ½ acre, 1 acre and in some instances 2 acres of paddy field. We were informed that the land had been ploughed at government expense and seed paddy had been supplied at government expense. Most people who returned later have not done any cultivation. They need to be provided with facilities to commence cultivation.
Many small and medium tanks/irrigation resources are damaged due to the war or are in a state of disrepair. They need to be carefully identified in consultation with the farmers and a programme needs to be drawn out for the restoration of such tanks/irrigation resources. This is an urgent need and should be done on a priority basis. This would enable the people to successfully cultivate their paddy fields and produce all the food they require and more.
The other main source of income generation is the growth of vegetables. In several villages we visited people had grown vegetables such as beetroot, carrot, leeks, cabbage - generally grown only in the up Country - in addition to all other local vegetables, and Onions Chilies etc. For this purpose they need the Wells in their gardens to be in good order; most wells are destroyed/damaged - they need to be restored. The wells that can be used need to be drained the people need water pumps to irrigate their vegetable plants and insecticide/pesticide sprayers.
In order to grow vegetables they need to have their gardens fenced. Fence posts can be obtained locally provided authority is granted to cut same. Adequate barbed wire is required for secure fencing. Every vegetable grower would need a cash advance of around Rs.50,000.00 to procure quality seed and other inputs. These several requirements would not cost much but would result in very substantial production. The vegetables were earlier marketed at the Kilinochchi market, the Jaffna market and the Colombo market. Our inquires revealed that the people derived substantial income from growing vegetables and we are convinced that this activity needs to be fully supported. This should not be delayed and should be implemented at the earliest.
Returnees are endeavoring to retrieve their cattle. People should have the freedom to do so, and there should be planned improvement of quality in this sector.
We did not visit many fishing villages, but fishermen have lost all their fishing gear and need to be provided with boats, nets etc. to commence their fishing activity. 150 fishermen who have been traditionally fishing in the Iranamadu tank have in recent times been prevented from doing so. They should be allowed to commence their traditional occupation.
Initially the Government is said to pay Rs 5000.00. Later a sum of Rs 20000.00 is said to be deposited in the Bank enabling a family to receive a total payment of Rs, 25000.00. This is to enable each family to purchase some urgent requirements and meet other urgent expenses. Some families have received Rs.25,000.00. Some other families have received only 18,000.00. Some other families have received only Rs 5000.00. Some other families have received nothing. From the information given to us, the implementation of the scheme seems to be lacking in a proper system. Families returning at the same time should receive the same treatment. But it is not so. It should be ensured at the earliest that all families who have returned receive the full payment of Rs. 25000.00.
This is vitally important because every family urgently needs money to attend to some essential need.
Most school buildings are destroyed/damaged. The buildings need to be rebuilt/repaired. In most schools all the school furniture or a substantial part thereof has been destroyed/damaged. The furniture required needs to be supplied. Students do not have school uniforms, school bags, shoes, school books or stationery. In some instances religious/charitable institutions have helped. In most instances the families are unable to provide the students’ needs.
Some children need to travel long distances to attend school. Some children studying in the (G.C.E) Advanced level class have to travel long distances to attend school. The bus service is unsatisfactory. Such children need to be provided with bicycles.
Every effort needs to be made to enable the schools to expeditiously function normally. This request was made by all the Returnees. A scheme needs to be drawn out and implemented to fulfill the above needs, and attend to other shortcomings.
School gardening is much desired. The school property should be fenced to enable this. The income generated could benefit the school.
Medical institutions have also suffered destruction and damage. Some have escaped. Some need equipment. Such equipment should be provided early. A Doctor needs to be on duty throughout the day and night. It was stated that some hospitals, like Government offices, do not function after a certain time. This should not be permitted. Steps should be taken to make hospitals function efficiently. The Returnees are a much traumatized people needing constant medical care. They should be looked after.
Vehicles, Agricultural, Fishing Equipment
While escaping the internally displaced persons used whatever vehicle was available to get away. From information that we have gathered, several families owned tractors, large number of families owned land-masters, two wheel tractors, large number of families owned motor cycles - some more than one, and all families owned at least one bicycle, many families owned more than one for the needs of the family including the students. They used these vehicles to escape from place to place during their multiple displacements abandoning them at their last destination, before going into a war free territory and then the camps. None of them have been able to recover any of these vehicles.
We would urge that at least a new bicycle be made available to every family to start with. This is a very essential requisite.
Tractors and Land Masters could be made available on a collective basis and used as per requirements and needs, through coordinated co-operation at the local level.
It is not clear in what condition the abandoned vehicles are. Our delegation did see huge heaps of bicycles and motorcycles accumulated beside the road on our way to Puthukudiyiruppu in Mullaitheevu. It could be explored whether steps can be taken to help identification and return of these vehicles to the original owners. This can only be done jointly by all personnel at the local level. It would greatly benefit the family concerned if vehicles can be restored, and we would urge that this be earnestly considered. We had some vague information that there were other places in which vehicles were similarly heaped. Local officials would know the position best.
All other agricultural and fishing equipment like water pumps, sprayers, boats and nets were abandoned when people fled. To enable the Returnees to commence their livelihood these would need to be replaced.
We would urge that a scheme be devised to implement the above at the earliest.
Several of the Internally Displaced Returnees have land, both residential and agricultural. Their documents of title-deeds/permits-could have been destroyed/lost as a result of the War. These persons should be assisted by the Grama Sevaka, the Divisional Secretary and the Kachcheri to obtain the documents of title where these are state documents. Their documents of private title have to be obtained from the relevant Land Registry.
Steps could be taken through the Free Legal Aid scheme, for lawyers to assist these persons to obtain copies of the lost documents relating to private title. Some of the Returnees are landless. Families have also multiplied and such new families need their own land. Steps should be taken to give all such persons both residential and agricultural land. Having documents of title in regard to their lands could be a pre-requisite to their obtaining assistance from different institutions, for residence and also livelihood.
For the Returnees to commence their livelihood activities it is essential that the implements supplied to them such as mammotties, axes and knives are of good quality. Many persons who were engaged in vegetable gardening complained of the quality of the mammotty and stated that they would not be able to use them effectively. Some complained that the knife supplied was good enough only to break a coconut and that the branch of a tree could not be cut with the knife supplied. Care should be taken to ensure that the implements supplied are of good quality. The Returnees could be consulted in regard to what is actually needed.
Places of worship
In many areas places of worship have been destroyed/damaged. When displaced people return, one of their primary concerns is to restore at least one place of worship. These places of worship had been built by these people at their personal cost. These people do not have the means now to rebuild these places of worship. Nevertheless, restoration of at least one place worship in the village is regarded as absolutely essential. Life in the village revolves around the temple. A scheme needs to be devised to restore at least one place of worship in every village. It is urged that this issue is addressed earnestly.
Electrification must not be confined to the A9 and other main roads. Electrification must be taken to the interior. Electrification is urgently required in the interior villages for farming and growing vegetables. In many areas electricity lines are available close by and extension would be possible without enormous expense. The Ceylon Electricity Board may be requested to provide a list of areas to which electricity can be easily extended. The Divisional Secretaries could initiate this process and render the necessary assistance to the C.E.B. This would be a major contribution towards uplifting the lives of these Returnees, and given their circumstances the Returnees deserve such assistance.
Many wells in several areas need to be drained to provide clean drinking water. In many instances this had not been done because a water pump to drain the well was not available. Given their personal state, the Returnees were not able to obtain a water pump. In a few places all wells are saline. In such places pipe borne water supply is essential.
Non Governmental Organisations
INGOs and NGOs other than IOM, UNHCR, Caritas, Sarvodaya, Sevalanka and a very few others are not allowed to work in the Vanni. Those working at present in the Vanni are engaged only in certain specified activities. They cannot grant the Returnees relief that does not fall within their mandate or does not fall within the authority granted by government. The needs of the Returnees are many and multi-faceted. The Returnees in order to rebuild their lives need to be assisted in regard to their essential requirements relating to food, nutrition, livelihood, shelter, education, health, sanitation etc.
If INGOs and NGOs are able to work freely, many needs referred to in this document and other needs as and when they arise could be met by the INGOs and NGOs. Given the fact that the Returnees are virtually destitute, and the administration is not geared to meet most needs of these people there is a need for greater flexibility and regard to the functioning and services of INGOs and NGOs. Rigid refusal to the bulk of INGOs and NGOs to work in the Vanni would result in great hardship to the Returnees. The Returnees are already experiencing many hardships and would continue to experience hardships that can avoided. Consequently Returnees resuming normal life would be retarded. It is therefore urged that INGOs and NGOs be allowed to work freely in the Vanni.
Delay in return to original places of residence after leaving camps.
At the time we visited the Vanni – in the third week of May –
i. around 220,000 people were reported to have returned to their original places
ii. around 70,000 were yet reported to be in the camps
iii. around 90,000 were yet reported to be with host families.
Our visit to the Kilinochchi Central College on Monday 24th May revealed that there was probably yet another category. 288 families had arrived here from the camps. Over 400 more families were expected to come soon. The families who had returned were not able to return to their original places of residence. As at 24th May it was 19 days since they had left the camps. They went and saw their original places of residence immediately on their return. More recent visits have shown further deterioration in the condition of their properties. As at 24th May the areas in which resettlement was not taking place were:
1. Santhapuram to which the 288 families referred to above belong.
From which 400 families were expected to come.
All these areas are within the Karachchi DS division. Our inquiries did not reveal that de-mining was the cause of the delay in return. The Returnees were apprehensive about the delay in returning to their original lands. Such delays should not occur.
Detained, Missing and Killed
There was a constant appeal from all Returnees for:
i. The release of those detained
ii. Information in regard to those who are missing, and
iii. Confirmation of those killed
Most of those detained were arrested on suspicion. Some under compulsion had assisted the LTTE in some way. Many of them had surrendered in good faith on being told that they would be released after being questioned. A distinction should be drawn between those against whom there is no evidence or whose involvement was purely peripheral, and others against whom there is evidence or who were seriously involved. It is widely believed that over 10,000 young people are detained. Some persons from among those detained are reportedly taken away for questioning and not brought back to the original place of detention. There is immense concern about the safety of such persons.
At a meeting held between the President and the Tamil National Alliance in 2009 there was agreement that the list of all persons detained would be displayed at the camps and the offices of the Divisional Secretaries and the office of the Government Agent/Divisional Secretary which would enable the public at large to have information of those so detained. This has not so far been done. And we would urge that this be done without delay. Many young families are undergoing immense hardship as a result of the husband/father being in custody. Many elderly parents of a son or daughter are similarly suffering immense hardship. Such persons should be treated with understanding and the government should demonstrate its will to be sympathetic to the plight of these people. Many of them were caught up in a situation completely beyond their control. Many were victims of circumstances. We would urge that the Government should take early action to release such people.
The government could grant a general amnesty to others. There have been precedents for such action in the past.
The Government should demonstrate its will to be compassionate and forgiving. Such a step would greatly help to restore goodwill and harmony.
Finality needs to be arrived at in regard to those who are missing. Uncertainty only continues to torment the families of the missing persons. Action should be taken to arrive at a decision in regard to the missing persons and there must be an acknowledgement of the truth in regard to such person. Steps should be taken to mitigate the pain of the affected families. Such action would have a soothing effect on the affected families and bring an end to their trauma.
Death certificates should be provided for those killed.
War affected families – widows and orphans
War affected families could be regarded as families which have lost the bread winner in the family - the person who maintained the family.
Widows and orphans would fall into the same category. A scheme should be devised to provide appropriate relief in some special way to these families/individuals which would enable them to withstand the loss of the breadwinner and enable them to receive sufficient support for their survival. After a period of time their circumstances could change.
Resettlement at Thiru Murugandy between 232 km and 247 km
The families around 1,000 in number living at Thiru Murugandy on the Eastern side of the A9 Highway were also displaced and lost all their assets as a result of the War. They have been living in camps at Chettikulam. Some of these families have been living at Thiru Murugandy from 1977; the others from 1983. They are all persons of recent Indian origin who were displaced from the areas in which they lived, in other parts of the country. They lost all their belongings, came to Kilinochchi and at great effort cleared and occupied the land at Thiru Murugandy.
They developed the land and established their homes here. They had been living on this land for over 25 to 30 years and looked upon this as their home. There seems to be a move to temporarily delay their resettlement. These people are anxious to resettle with the others and recommence their lives. They should be afforded the same facilities and enabled to resettle in the lands from which they were displaced.
Keppapulavu Village within the Maritime Pattu DS division in the Mullaitheevu District
A request had been made to the Government Agent by Army authorities for 2,259 acres of land at Keppapulavu village traditionally occupied before the war by civilian population and held by the civilian population on documents of title. The people should be allowed to resettle on their original lands without delay.
Resettlement at Keppapulavu Village in the Mullaitheevu District, at Sannar, Periyamdu, Pulakkadu and Pallamadu in the Mannar District, at Mullikulam in the Mannar District have been delayed on account of the demand made by the armed forces for land occupied before the war by the internally displaced persons and for which they hold documents of title. These persons should be enabled to return to their villages without delay and enjoy all other facilities as before the commencement of the war.
Returnee families from Santhapuram in the Kilinochchi District
288 families from Santhapuram in the Kilinochchi District who are presently in the transit camp at Kilinochchi Central College are not able to return to their village. Similarly, over 400 other families from 8 other villages in Kilinochchi are unable to return to their villages. Further information in regard to these matters are contained in our detailed report. All these families should be enabled to return to their respective villages.
It would be useful to consider having a mobile Kachcheri in a cluster of adjoining villages or in every Divisional Secretary’s Division to deal with many of the problems faced by the Returnees. This would give the returnees an opportunity of directly interacting with the officials who can attend to their needs. It would also be possible for officials to obtain relevant information from the people in regard to many matters. Many of the problems referred to in this document could be sorted out by such a process. It would also enable the people to integrate with the system and enable the officials to understand the concerns of the people better. Such a step would facilitate the rehabilitation process.
Moral and legal obligation
There can be no doubt that these internally displaced Returnees have suffered immensely in every possible way. They have lost their civilian kith and kin in considerable numbers, their assets have either been destroyed or have perished and they have been rendered destitute.
These were people who led an honourable life – they lived in their own land in their houses, generated their own income through agriculture, horticulture, animal husbandry, fishing and cottage industries. They led respectable and honourable lives. They were the victims of a ruthless war which was prosecuted totally regardless of the safety and security of the civilian population.
All that happened to them is well monitored and known to the whole world.
These unfortunate people are now returning to nothing. They hope that they can restart and rebuild their lives.
There is a moral and legal obligation cast on all Sri Lankans, particularly the Sri Lankan State to ensure that they will be successful in their efforts. These people would also want the International Community to help this process.
We have outlined in this document some steps that need to be taken to ensure that these people will be successful in their efforts.
An appropriate scheme of compensation also needs to be considered.
The resettlement and rehabilitation of these unfortunate people and the reconstruction of these areas is one of the pre-requisites to reconciliation and a genuine peace.
(Report of the visit of a Parliamentary Delegation of the Tamil National Alliance (TNA) to the Vanni - the war affected areas in the Districts of Vavuniya, Mannar, Mullaitheevu, and Killinochchi on 21st 22nd 23rd and 24th May 2010)