Sri Lanka: Tens of thousands of people homeless and landless
by Melani Manel Perera
A report into “Land issues in Sri Lanka" shows that throughout the country there are thousands of refugees. In addition to the harrowing situation of the victims of the war and the tsunami, there are many small cases of people who leave their homes to escape elephant attacks, because of expropriations linked to the tourism industry or contradictory policies of the government.

Colombo (AsiaNews) –Every region in Sri Lanka has displaced persons. These include not just war refugees from the North but also people uprooted by the tsunami from Southern and Eastern provinces. Many people also leave their homes to escape the attacks of elephants, because their homes are expropriated by the tourism industry or because they are victims of contradictory government policies.  

L.M. Abewickrama, Head of the Socio Economic Department of the Faculty of Agriculture at the University of Ruhuna, says that "Land is central to the most of the issues related to poverty and food production systems in the country." In collaboration with a network of associations including Praja Abilasha and People to People Dialogue (PPD), both linked to the National Fisheries Solidarity Movement (NAFSA), Professor Abewickrama wrote the report " Land Issues of Sri Lanka " (in picture the cover of the three editions in English, Sinhalese and Tamil). The survey presents the results of 74 cases in 18 districts of the country that analyze the causes that bring hundreds of thousands of Sri Lankans to flee their homes.

Presenting the report on June 30th in Colombo, were several witnesses who told the story of IDPs in various parts of Sri Lanka. P. Pathmanadan, who lives in the coastal area around Kalpitiya in the district of Puttalam (North Western province), told of government expropriation of an area of 5 thousand acres, more than 20 square kilometers and 15 islands to make space for the tourist industry. "What will the future of fishermen, farmers and women of the area be?" asked Pathmanadan. Saranapala de Silva, Secretary General of the United Federation of Labour, raised the same question on the future of the 17 thousand people displaced by the tsunami who are still living in refugee camps and for which "the government does nothing, despite having received so much money for the rehabilitation and reconstruction of houses for victims of the tsunami.”

In addition to the well known situation of the 300 thousand refugees of the war between Tamil Tigers and the military, there are many people living without a house or land throughout the country. The problem also affects underpaid plantation workers, who are forced to live together in common shelters without any privacy. The fishermen, however, often are forced to abandon homes that for generations had been handed down from father to son to make room for projects like the Oluwil harbor and Hambantota harbor on the coast of Kalpitiya.

"The phenomenon of displaced and landless persons is not caused only by a lack of land - says Herman Kumara of NAFSA - but rather contradictory programs, imposed and implemented by the government." For the chairman of the association of fishermen "legislation is required that acknowledges land as a fundamental right, but the Constitution of Sri Lanka on this issue is incomplete and inadequate."