By Mohamed Shareef Asees –April 6, 2017
It has been 27 years since the Muslims were forcibly evicted from their homes in the Northern Province of Sri Lanka. It is reported that around 15,000 Muslim families were forcibly expelled by the LTTE from their homes in five districts: Jaffna 3,475, Mannar 8,200, Vavuniya 1,800, Mulaitheevu 1,000 and Kilinochi 525. The displaced Muslims moved to North-Western Province (Puttalam district) where they have been living as IDPs in the past two and half decades. It is reported that in 2006 there were around 65,000 Muslim IDPs lived in 141 IDP camps in four administration divisions: Kalpitiya (34, 809), Puttalam (20,992), Mundal (5,336), and Vannathavillu (2,008). Most of these IDPs were poor and faced many problems over the housings, infrastructure, education and health care services, etc. In 2007, the World Bank launched a housing project and provided 6000 houses for the Muslim IDPs. However, the rest of Muslim IDPs (over 40,000) continue to suffer in the IDP camps without any durable solutions.
The end of conflict in May 2009 brought a new hope for the resettlement of Muslim IDPs. However both the Sri Lankan government and International community prioritized the Tamil IDPs and resettled over 300,000 IDPs within six months. This has led some Muslim IDPs to feel isolation and began to go back their places of origin voluntarily. The former Resettlement Minister, Rishard Bathiudeen was able to negotiate with some Islamic organizations and they agreed to provide some houses for this marginalized Muslim IDPs. In 2012, Muslims in Marichukatti began their resettlement process with the support of Qatar foundation. Since then some Buddhist monks and media groups began to accuse their resettlement and claimed it was an illegal resettlement and violation of Wilpattu national forest. Further, a large area of their villages was declared as government forests by the Forest Department in 2012. It was challenged by the Minister Rishad badiudeen and he conducted series of media conference and debates with respective media channels and people. During the debate he showed all legal documents and proved that Muslims are entitled to live in those areas. However, none of the party who opposed these resettlements are not convinced and they continued their hate campaign against it. Two weeks ago President Maithripala Sirisena declared all these Muslim settlements (border villages) as Wilpattu without any concern from the local people. It seems that the Sri Lankan government which has the sole responsibility to protect the people acts against its ethics. This has brought some negative thoughts among the Muslims about the good governance in Sri Lanka.
Vulnerability Of Muslim IDPs
Internal displacement was a horrific event for many Muslim IDPs in Sri Lanka. The life in IDP camps have de-moralized men, women, children and elderly people and affected them physically, psychologically, socially, economically and educationally. As for the present challenges, the Muslim IDPs face many economic, political and cultural difficulties. In Puttalam there are 40,000 Muslim IDPs live in the North-west coastal region. The total population of this region doubled with the arrival of Muslim IDPs. When they first arrived, this region was among the least developed areas in the country and was in no position to offer economic opportunities to the IDPs. More than 90% of IDPs depended on dry food-rations provided by the Sri Lankan government and the World Food Program. It was not possible for the IDPs to stand on their own feet in such a resource-poor area. Moreover, the arrival of Muslim IDPs also created some contradictions and tense situation between the Muslim IDPs and the local residents in Puttalam.
IDPs are generally vulnerable when compared to refugees. In Sri Lanka the Muslim IDPs who chased from their homes also vulnerable when compared to Tamil and Sinhala IDPs in many ways. Firstly, regarding the forcible eviction, none of the ethnic groups either Tamil or Sinhalese were forcibly evicted by the LTTE within 24 hours. Further their entire assets both moveable and non-moveable were forcibly taken or looted by the LTTE at gun point. This never happened to any ethnic groups. It is estimated that due to the forcible eviction, the Muslims in the North lost around Rs. 100,000 Million at the time in 1990. Until now, there is no compensation or return of these losses. It shows that how vulnerable these IDPs in Sri Lanka.