02/24/2010, 00.00
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Refugees surviving on 250 grams of rice a day

by Melani Manel Perera
This is the standard amount per refugee provided by the World Food Programme in government-run camps. Tens of thousands of families receive no government aid and rely on private charities. They are still waiting to go home to their land, a prospect that appears increasingly difficult.
Colombo (AsiaNews) – “Among displaced families in the Vanni area, 3,384 families have reached the Jaffna Peninsula; about 850 of them are now living in the Allar-Kodigamam camp. The rest are staying with relatives. They used to earn a living by fishing but do not have that opportunity any more. They now survive on dry rations from the World Food Programme (WFP) as well as help from Caritas Jaffna and the Jesuits,” said Anthony Jesudasan, coordinator of ‘People’s Dialogue for Peace and Sustainable Development’, which is part of the National Fisheries Solidarity Movement. He held a press conference on Monday after visiting Jaffna.

“From the WFP, every refugee gets 250 grams of rice, 20 grams of sugar, 20 grams of dhal and 50 ml of coconut oil per day, once a week. In Jaffna, Caritas and the Jesuits provide, when they can, meat, fish, potatoes and more,” he said.

“Recently, men were allowed to leave the Kodigamam camp for ten days to look for work and earn some money. Young people went to neighbouring communities to find work and buy food, clothes and toys for children. But they did not earn that much,” Jesudasan said.

According to the Jesuit Fathers, in some families “some members earn a little bit of money. Families with husbands, fathers or brothers can earn some money and buy food and toys for the children . . . but some families are very poor because they lost husbands, fathers and brothers, and no one can leave the camp to make some money for wives and children . . . . Fatherless children are very sad. It is impossible to describe the sadness in their eyes,” he said.

“Many widows can have up to three or four children,” Jesudasan explained. “No one brings them any food; no one gives them powdered milk or clothes; no one provides them with what they need to live. . . . These children have more difficulties than other refugee children do. Some widows have a hard time getting their husband’s death certificate, or that of other relatives, or their children’s birth certificates.”

For Jesudasan, refugees must be allowed to go back to their homes, till their land, rebuild the lives they once had, free and without restrictions.

Entire Tamil communities were displaced, living as refugees for years, he said. They lost land, homes, everything. Young people need programmes or else they might fail to adapt to peace times or live in cities.

Some of the best farmland was abandoned during the war. In the south, a huge dam is being built by Hellys on fertile land. In Sarthy, plans are underway to turn the area into a tourist resort at the expense of local landowners. Some fishermen went back to work and brought their catch to Colombo only to have it seized without payment by security forces.

The challenge for the future is to find a way for Tamils, Sinhalese and Muslims who come from Jaffna and surrounding areas to live together.

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