February 27, 2013

Jaffna Muslims return un-supported

Muslims were expelled from five districts (Jaffna, Kilinochchi, Mullaithivu, Vavuniya and Mannar) in the North by the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) in October 1990. The LTTE gave a forty eight hour ultimatum for the Muslims to leave the Northern province, and two hours were given to leave the Jaffna Peninsula. Each Muslim was allowed to take only Rs.500/= and a few sets of clothes with them. As there was no transport, they walked for many miles for approximately three days and reached Anuradhapura, Puttalam, Chilaw, Colombo, Kandy and so on. There were 3,620 families in the Puttalam District (13,757members), 563 families in the Gampaha District (2,759 members), 491 families in the Kalutara District (2,064 members), 492 families (2,195 members) in the Colombo District, 237 families (1,072 members) in the Anuradhapura District, 45 families (205 members) in the Kegalle District and 35 families (182 members) in the Kandy District according to the data collected in 2008 by the “Northern Muslims Rights Organization”.

About 70,000-75,000 Muslims (5% of the province’s total population at the time of expulsion) were expelled from the North, and sought refuge at schools, Mosques, and with host families. After the three decade long war was ended in May 2009, the Muslim Internally Displaced Persons (IDP) have begun to return to their places of origin in the North. Most of them have chosen to go back to their original places believing that it would mean better employment opportunities and a better education for their children. .“I am a pavement hawker. I sell silver goods, and I am earning more than what I used to earn in Puttalam”, says a recent returnee Mohamed N. Masmilar (43).

But, some are facing difficulties in adjusting to the new environment, and getting used to a different lifestyle. These returnees feel that they are forgotten, as they feel that currently attention is paid to the resettled Tamil people in the Vanni area. They also feel that the Muslim returnees in the Mannar District are being better looked after than those in the Jaffna District.

There is no health facility for us. We don’t have enough space to live and we are forced to squeeze in and live within a very small area in the school. There is no recreational activity for our children and there is no privacy. Each household is well aware of what happens in the adjoining room or to their neighbor” says Fathima Farzana Rislim.

There are 15 families staying at the Katheeja Maha Vidyalayam in Jaffna. The toilet section is overgrown with shrubs, and there is a common well to have a shower and wash clothes. There is no running water facility in the school and they have to wait outside in a queue to get water from the tap.

The term old IDPs and new IDPs itself is discriminatory. As of February 2012, 2,251 (2,082 in the Jaffna Division, 93 in the Chaavakachcheri Division and 76 in the Kayts Division) Muslim families have been registered to resettle in Jaffna and they have returned with great expectations, after the A9 highway was reopened for civilian movement. But, after returning, they found that there is no support to either restart their livelihoods or repair their houses. Therefore, 68 families wanted to go back to Puttalam in 2012. Though the Lessons Learned and Reconciliation Commission calls for a special committee and a State policy, neither a special committee has been appointed nor is there a State policy in place to take care of the issues related to the Northern Muslim IDPs,” says Sheikh Asmin Aiyoob, the Director, of the ‘Centre for Information and Guidance’, a local Non Governmental Organization, based in Jaffna.

Jamaliya Akbar (51) is a widow who went to Jaffna during the Ceasefire time in 2003, and her husband died there. She has chosen to stay back in Jaffna. “I am a widow, and I have no help to look after my family. I am struggling to survive”.

A total of 2,244 families (2,075 families in the Jaffna Division, 93 families in the Chaavakachcheri Division and 76 families in the Kayts Division) are in need of housing according to the Jaffna, Chaavakachcheri and Kayts Divisional Secretariats respectively. 3,447 houses (3.370 in Jaffna, 44 in Chaavakachcheri, 28 in Island South, 1 in Vadamaraatchchi North, 1 in Valikaamam North, 3 in Valikaamam South West) belonging to Muslims in the Jaffna District have been destroyed by the LTTE, after the ethnic cleansing, where the total estimated cost of the damage is Rs.497, 859,750/= according to the ‘Moors Research Centre’.

According to the ‘Centre for Information and Guidance’, there are 780 fully damaged houses, 1,123 partially damaged houses and 400 unidentified houses in the Jaffna District.

The returnees are facing problems related to land, houses and relief material. There had been numerous awareness programs conducted urging the Muslims to return to their places of origin in the North after the war ended in May 2009, but the returnees claim that there is a lack of interest by the Government to follow up and support their resettlement process.

According to the Jaffna District Secretariat, 2,917 (10,968 members) families were expelled from Jaffna District in 1990. There were 2,490 permanent houses and 500 semi permanent houses at the time of expulsion.

We are being discriminated against by the authorities. There is no Indian housing scheme for the Northern Muslims. We too are victims of violence. It’s very hard to accept that our voices are not heard. Nobody is willing to highlight our plight” says a recent returnee, N.P.M. Nifan.

Muslims of the Northern Province were forced to flee. Now, their right to return and reclaim their lands and properties are simply ignored by the respective authorities.

The Lesson Learnt and Reconciliation Commission’s Recommendation 9.113 states that a special committee to examine durable solutions and formulate a comprehensive State policy on the issue (of Muslim IDPs displaced from the North) should be appointed after extensive consultations with the IDPs and the host communities. In addition to this, the Lesson Learnt and Reconciliation Commission’s recommendation 9.195 calls for the facilitation of the early return of the displaced Muslims to their places of origin in the Northern Province where immediate steps should be taken to assist in the rebuilding of the mosques, houses and schools destroyed or damaged by the LTTE.

The ‘Jaffna- Kilinochchi Muslim Federation’ has sent a letter to the High Commissioner of India in Sri Lanka Ashok K. Kantha, in February 2012, requesting that the Muslim IDPs be accommodated in the Indian Housing scheme. It has also written a letter to the Governor of the Northern Province Major General G. A. Chandrasri. But the Muslim federation says that it hasn’t received a reply as yet from both authorities.

It is noteworthy that President Mahinda Rajapaksa has promised during his first term in office to appoint a Presidential Commission to inquire into the eviction of Northern Muslims from their places of origin. He has also promised to resettle the Muslim IDPs by May 2010. Muslim IDPs from the North strongly feel that the President and authorities have failed to recognize the Muslims right to return in a post war nation building process.

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