Another woman from the same village has been looking for her missing brother since 2007, when he was last seen at a checkpoint. The 35-year-old woman lost her mother, elder brother and sister when all were shot dead by the Sri Lankan Army in early 1990s.
The military’s heavy presence in the north has, ironically, grown drastically after the more than three-decades-long war ended. Whereas the resettlement in the north of Tamil ‘internally displaced persons’ (IDPs), which is supposed to be a top priority in the post-war era, is developing at a snail’s pace at best. About 300,000 Tamils were held in IDP camps at the end of the war.
All aid provided to help resettlement is overseen by the “commander in charge” of the area. Aid items have to go through army checkpoint set up at the entry of each resettled area. Severe restrictions on NGOs and aid, which have left IDP camps vulnerable to disease and short on food, have now been extended into resettlement areas.
“We were told by the area commander not to use vehicles with our organisation’s logo. Without the logo, we could bring in aid for the people.” An aid worker in Vanni said.
In “P” village in Mannar, thousands of people began to resettle almost one year ago. But most villagers have no means to cope with the rainy season. People are living in temporary housing made of tin sheets provided by the International Organization for Migration.
When released from IDP camps, people were given 25,000 rupee (about $224) by UNHCR. The United Nations World Food Programme (WFP) promised to provide basic food items for six months. A woman from the village said: “Luckily, we were provided with food by WFP until August. It was more than six months.
“Now, we have sowed seeds provided by government for cultivation. [But] until the harvest in about four months’ time, we have no food.”
Some jobs have been available for villagers, such as cleaning public places, which pay about $4.5 per day. But it is far from sustainable work. There are no medical facilities or electricity, other than solar lanterns provided by Caritas for some families with students.
Despite shortfalls, aid and government workers in the region agreed that “P” village is one of the best resettlement cases. While villagers and NGOs complained about the vicious restrictions on aid for the desperate population, government workers nodded of those complaints.
“Some 150 families, who were resettled in and around Periamadu area, were given nothing. But the government hasn’t given permission to NGOs [to help]” said Sanjive (name changed), a 32-year-old field worker.
In early September, Suresh Premanchandra, an MP from the Tamil National Alliance, revealed that 255 families, or 1215 people, were prevented by the commander in charge at Mullaitivu from resettling in their place of origin. No aid has been provided for these people, who are living in a school.
Another Tamil politician, Mano Ganeshan, equated the situation with the one in Palestine. “This is what has been going on in Palestine. Palestinians have lived in refugee camps for generations,” he said. “The government wants to keep Tamils desperate for more years. This is so people will only be concerned with food and shelter, and they won’t think of political or social rights”.