Colombo (AsiaNews) – The National Fisheries Solidarity (NAFSO) movement organised a roundtable in the Sri Lankan capital of Colombo on Monday to discuss a report. Titled Let them come back to their places of origin in and with dignity, the study centred on the situation in 38 refugee camps in 27 villages.
Completed in late August, the report indicated that about 35 camps have existed since the 1990s, but five of them were hitherto unknown. Some 1,536 families or 5,836 people live in the camps. However, about 30,000 people are still internally displaced on the Jaffna Peninsula. The meeting sought to take stock of the situation.
The island nation saw a brutal civil war between the government and Tamil Tigers (Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam, or LTTE). The latter sought to create an independent state in the predominantly Tamil provinces of northern and eastern Sri Lanka.
These areas bore the brunt of 30 years of bloody civil war between the army and rebels, and the civil war ended with the rebels’ defeat.
Since then, the gap has grown between impoverished north-eastern regions, where most Tamil live, including some 200,000 refugees, and the mostly Sinhala south, which is rich and prosperous.
Most Tamil still vividly remember the violence they had to endure. For the first time this year, the newly elected president Maithripala Sirisena allowed the relatives of the victims to remember their loved ones who died.
Even though Sirisena recently returned some plots of land to 300 displaced families, many people remain very poor.
NAFSO coordinator Lavina Hasanthi told AsiaNews that the overall picture of the situation is still incomplete because many displaced people are not registered at refugee camps. Some in fact prefer to live in makeshift tents near their original home.
NAFSO’s report was handed over to three government officials, namely Eastern Province Chief Minister's Coordinating Secretary A. Abeywickrama, Additional Jaffna District Secretary Mr Muralitharan and Ministry of National Dialogue Secretary Ms Bhanu.
The 35-page document also notes that thousands of Tamil are refugees abroad, especially in the Indian state of Tamil Nadu. Some have also applied for asylum in Western countries.
NAFSO president Herman Kumara, a special guest from the World Forum for Fisher People (WFFP), told AsiaNews that 55 per cent of those living in the camps do not have electricity, and 70 per cent do not have access to clean water. He also noted that lavatories are almost non-existent, and where they do exist, they are off-limits at night.
"As human rights activists, all we can hope for is for our fellow citizens to lead a life based on dignity,” he said. “We anticipate that displaced people will go back to a normal life, on their land, revive their culture so as to contribute to the country’s economy. Above all, we want to see them get out of their currently subhuman conditions and start to lead a decent living.”