The problem for Tamil families began in 1990 when the Navy took their land. In 2012 a temporary agreement fell through and they were forced into the jungle. Two weeks ago, they got the green light to rebuild their village, but so far there has been no progress.
Mannar (AsiaNews) – "Help us to get back our lands," is the cry of pain of some Tamil Catholic families who are still unable to return to their homes in Mullikulam, a village in the diocese of Mannar (northern Sri Lanka).
The refugees feel "betrayed and deceived" by everyone: the government, the Navy (which expropriated their land) and even the local Church, "guilty" in their view of not doing enough to give them a dignified life. “We are still displaced. Is this justice?” they told AsiaNews.
On 29 April, a delegation of refugees met with the navy commander, some Tamil politicians, government officials, diocesan priests, and Fr Victor Sosai, vicar general of the Diocese of Mannar.
The displaced complain that "all the discussion took place in English, so we did not understand anything about what was said. Even priests did not know how to translate the discussion."
At the end of the meeting, Fr Sosai and Tamil lawmaker Addikkalanadan met with the displaced and told them that they could finally rebuild the village after three days. In the meantime, they would stay at the Queen of Heaven Church.
Euphoric because of the news, the refugees celebrated a thanksgiving Mass, but two weeks later no progress has been achieved.
For these Tamil Catholics, everything began in 1990, when they were forced to leave their village for a first time as a result of the civil war. Their ancestors had settled in the area in the 19th century, living off the land and the sea.
In 2002, with the signing of a Norway-mediated peace agreement, people began returning to their village. But in 2007, when fighting flared up again, people found themselves again with nothing, displaced in the jungle and in constant danger from elephants and snakes.
In principle, the people in question were supposed to be among the first refugees to benefit from the government’s resettlement programme following the end of the civil war in 2009. In practice, they have been without a home and work for almost three decades.
In 2012, thanks to the intervention of Card Malcolm Ranjith, archbishop of Colombo, who pressed for an agreement with Gotabhaya Rakapaksa, then secretary of Defense, some steps forward were taken. However, the authorities’ answer was quite clear: "You cannot go back to your homes."
Now these Tamil Catholics are no longer willing to take it anymore and will not stop their protest until "we have our village back."
They also complain about false news reports that after the April 29th meeting, the Navy had returned their lands. "It's all fake," they noted bitterly.
Photos by Melani Manel Perera