|Government takes care of escapees|
|Friday, 19 December 2008|
18 December 2008
As the Security Forces progress in their efforts to regain control of the Northern Province, an increasing number of civilians are seeking refuge with the Government. The figure is rather lower than was hoped for, because people who want to move out from the conflict areas must defy the LTTE, but their restrictions are expected to be harder to enforce as time goes on. Representatives from the Peace Secretariat and the Ministry of Disaster Management and Human Rights visited the welfare centres set up to receive these civilians on December 8th and 9th in order to assess the situation and identify opportunities to accelerate the process of their getting back to normal life.
There are two camps in the Mannar district – Kalimodai and Sirukkandal – which have been operating since March and July respectively, while the Vavuniya district hosts a newer site at Manik Farm. Around 1,000 people are staying in the three welfare centres.Regular critics of the Government have lashed out at conditions there, claiming that people are treated inhumanely. They have likened the arrangements in place to internment, conjuring up images of Japanese Americans being packed off to the middle of nowhere during World War II and Irish Catholics being locked up in prison during the Troubles. Yet this is all nonsense, as is obvious to the many people – including a number of NGOs – who have visited.
The Security Forces run the camps, and do so with rather more efficiency and commitment to the wellbeing of their residents than is unfortunately so often the case elsewhere. They have built good quality shelters from local materials, which are considerably better than the metal sheets usually provided by international agencies. Food is given, and people supplement their rations with supplies purchased from outside. Residents have also been assisted to start home gardens.
Drainage channels have been dug to help cope with the rains, and the Security Forces are clearly succeeding in keeping the place clean. Sanitation facilities are adequate too.
The Peace Secretariat and Ministry of Disaster Management and Human Rights representatives also visited Poonthoddam camp in the Vavuniya district, which looks after people who have been displaced for up to fifteen years, and found the new sites to be considerably better managed. International agencies must be encouraged to upgrade their work in the longer standing welfare centres, and Government has to take responsibility to ensure this happens without further delay. There are a number of security measures in place to try and ensure that any LTTE cadres who accompanied the escaping civilians aren’t in a position to wreak havoc in the local community. People who arrived with their families are not subject to any restrictions, but single individuals – of which there are around 150 in Kalimodai and Sirukkandal – are required to stay within the boundaries of the welfare centres until their bona fides can be verified. This obviously isn’t the perfect solution, but the ongoing conflict makes it necessary. Certain measures have to be employed to help the Security Forces cope with the additional threat.
The Government is doing its best to ensure that restrictions are kept to a bare minimum. It is also working hard to find temporary alternatives, such as offering work inside the welfare centres while residents are waiting to obtain clearance. The visit by representatives of the Peace Secretariat and the Ministry of Disaster Management and Human Rights provided an opportunity to gather information on skills available. The Government hopes to be able to provide incomes for people willing to help improve and expand facilities at the welfare centres, as there are quite a number of capable masons and carpenters in addition to labourers. A few individuals have already taken the initiative to organise English lessons within the camp, and the Government expects to provide them with a stipend, while Sinhala classes are also going to be a priority for assistance. Plans are being drawn up to supply books, newspapers and stationery as well.
The intention is to help civilians move out of the welfare centres as soon as possible, if they have somewhere to go. Those people with family and friends in other areas are encouraged to settle with them once security measures are completed. This is obviously much further advanced in the Mannar district, where many of the people arrived some months ago, and roughly ten percent have got through the process to date. The people in camps in the Vavuniya district are somewhat further behind, having arrived only very recently, but the system is now in place. As well as being helped to move in with family and friends, youth wanting to return or go off to study are also being assisted, and a few students have already returned to Jaffna University. Others sadly have to remain in the welfare centres for the moment, as it seems clear that they have received military training during prolonged absences from their studies.
The Government looks forward to the time when the people of the North can all return to their homes, and the Security Forces are certainly doing their best to speed this up. It won’t happen overnight, and delays are bound to be frustrating for those who have to wait, so every effort has to be made to ensure that the best possible temporary solutions are found. The Peace Secretariat and the Ministry of Disaster Management and Human Rights engagement in these welfare centres is intended to achieve exactly that objective.
Secretariat for Coordinating the Peace Process
|Last Updated ( Thursday, 23 July 2009 )|
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