Some 800,000 Sri Lankans still homeless
by Melanie Manel Perera

A group of NGOs highlighted the issue on World Habitat Day, noting that poverty and land seizures are a main factor. “About 800 families still live in IDP camps,” laments the Rural Labour Society of Jaffna.

Colombo (AsiaNews) – Sri Lanka yesterday marked World Habitat Day, whose main theme was “Accelerating urban action for a carbon-free world”.

However, urban development is impossible if the government does not take care of homeless people, lament civil society groups.

In Sri Lanka, at least 800,000 people do not have a home of their own and are considered homeless by the government, this according to Habitat for Humanity, whose director, Yu Hwa Li, spoke yesterday at an online event organised by a group of Sri Lankan NGOs via zoom.

“It is up to the government to find a solution to this problem,” Yu said. “None of the previous governments has ever drawn up plans to address the question.”

In Sri Lanka, low-income families who cannot afford their own home have to share often poor housing.

Usually, such a situation is due to “low-income earners who face economic hardships,” said Subadra Kumari, a member of the Negombo People's United Organisation.

“When three, four families, about 10-15 people, live in the same house a host of other problems arise, affecting relationships and personal freedoms,” Kumari added.

According to the Negombo People's United Organisation, founded more than 40 years ago to address the problem of homelessness in Sri Lanka, something has been done over the years, but hundreds of thousands of people still do not have a home of their own.

Nilanthi Sagarika, a woman who lives in Ja-Ela, explained that women can only rely on the head of the family because they do not receive any assistance from the government.

“I have a 19-year-old son who doesn't have the background to study and express his talent since we live without a permanent address,” she explained.

What is more, “About 800 families still live in IDP[*] camps,” noted Imbanayagam, president of the Rural Labour Society of Jaffna.

Some 7,000 people are still waiting for resettlement and have to live either "in refugee camps, at relatives’ home, or rent,” Imbanayagam told AsiaNews.

“The army is still holding large plots of Tamil land for the expansion of the ports of Miletty and Kankesanthurai and Palaly Airport,” he added.

Priyankara Costa, the coordinator of the People's Alliance for Right to Land, added his voice to the appeal.

"Due to poorly thought-out development projects, thousands of Sinhalese, Tamils and Muslims are homeless,” he said.

In one case, “The government of Mahinda Rajapaksa[†] went so far as to forcibly seize four villages in Panama, Eastern Province, in order to develop the tourism industry.”

[*] Internally displaced persons.

[†] President of Sri Lanka between 2005 and 2015.