Sinhala  Tamil    Seperate    
Governtment of Sri Lanka

Situation improving in Vavuniya IDP centres

( Created date: 06-Jul-2009 )

Many thousands of people have arrived in Vavuniya since the Peace Secretariat last reported on the situation in the welfare centres.  The Security Forces broke the LTTE grip on its human shield in May, enabling the remaining civilians to move to the safety of Government controlled areas.

This presented the authorities with a huge challenge, as the IDPs had to be fed, treated for injuries and sickness, brought down from beyond Mullaitivu, given fresh clothes and provided with shelter.  Most of their belongings had been left behind, and they had been allowed very little to eat in their final days with the LTTE.  To escape, they had risked their lives.  It was, therefore, in a poor state that they turned up.

The majority were taken directly to Menik Farm, to the newer camps that had been got ready in haste.  Zone 2, which had been commissioned when over 100,000 persons escaped the LTTE in late April, is the most crowded of these sites, housing more than 70,000 people.  Zones 3 and 4 currently account for over 40,000 each.

Prof. Rajiva Wijesinha, Secretary General of the Peace Secretariat, visited in June to assess progress, accompanied by staff who had been working in the IDP centres since the beginning of the year.  It was immediately clear that a lot of improvements had been made.  Many people had started their own cooking, resolving complaints that used to be made about the quality of food packets provided by the authorities.  Rubbish that had been left on the ground, attracting flies and therefore risking outbreaks of disease, had been cleared up.  Likewise, attention had been paid to drainage, to get rid of the pools of standing water that had been worrying earlier.

Praising the Security Forces for the initiative that they had taken to resolve many of these problems, he expressed concern at the slow and costly manner in which some things were being done by international agencies.  As well as the difficulties with toilets that are described elsewhere in this newsletter, where some NGOs made clear the comparative carelessness of others, there were issues in many other sectors.  For example, some organisations who had undertaken to put up sheds to be used as classrooms, play areas or simply as places for people to gather out of the sun, had got far behind schedule.  Given the amount of money that had been collected by international agencies citing the suffering of the IDPs, he said, it was unacceptable.

The Secretary General noted that the IDPs looked happier and healthier than on his previous visit.  Life had restarted to a certain extent, with children playing games and their parents getting back to some kind of work, even if it was just cooking, repairing clothes and cleaning.

The impression of distinct improvement was confirmed on visiting the Indian Medical Centre in Zone 1 of Menik Farm.  Having worked for a number of months in Pulmoddai, taking care of those wounded during the fighting, the team of eight doctors and four nurses had relocated as the last influx of civilians arrived in Vavuniya from the conflict areas.  They told the Secretary General that they had seen around 10,000 patients and performed more than 40 major operations since May.  The number of IDPs falling sick was decreasing, they reported, and there were now plenty of empty beds in their facility.  It was obvious that their work, and that of the many Sri Lankan health professionals who were serving people in the IDP centres, deserved much praise.  They had set a wonderful example, he said, with their courage, humanity and generosity, working without complaint under difficult conditions.

Further improvements in the situation of the IDPs in Zones 1 to 4 will become possible once the Government completes its plan to reduce overcrowding by shifting people to new sites.  Some 15 to 20 locations in the countryside between Menik Farm and Vavuniya have been identified and are in the process of being cleared by the Security Forces.  Once these are ready, families will have more privacy, and there will be space for games, lessons and other activities to keep people usefully occupied.  A couple have already been developed, to house some of the 20,000 people remaining in the Vavuniya schools.  The latter were intended as transit camps, to be used only for a couple of weeks, but the sheer number of IDPs coming down from the conflict areas necessitated their being kept on.  The Government intends to vacate them in the coming month, so as not to disrupt the education of local children any longer.

The Secretary General visited Weerapuram, where 6,000 people had been relocated a couple of weeks previously.  Although dusty, as vegetation had been removed when the land was cleared by the Security Forces, the advantages of this site over the schools were obvious.  Each family had its own relatively sizeable tent, gifted by the Chinese government, there was space for a number of shops and for lessons to be held effectively, and children were able to run around and play games in the open areas.  Unlike in the camps set up at the beginning, trees had been retained to provide shade.

Inspecting one of the Vavuniya schools still housing IDPs, the Secretary General noted that there had been improvements since his previous visit.  The place seemed less crowded, as quite a number of elderly people had been allowed to leave to stay with family members.  It was also cleaner, the authorities having organised themselves a little better in the intervening time.  Water was delivered by bowser now too, which put less of a strain on the local system.

It was noteworthy that security restrictions had been relaxed to the extent that visitors were allowed into all of the IDP centres, and that they were permitted to bring food and other items.  The camaraderie between the IDPs and the young security personnel was remarkable, with children having to be restrained by elders from being too familiar.

What can be achieved for the IDPs with commitment was demonstrated in Zone 0 at Menik Farm, the original site established by the Government.  Housing 20,000 people in semi-permanent structures, with concrete floors so that they are easy to keep clean and remain livable in during the rainy season, and with cadjan roofs that keep them cool, this place had become both attractive and comfortable.  People had been encouraged to grow fruits and vegetables in the land around their houses, both to improve the environment by reducing dust and increasing green areas, and to give them the possibility to vary their diet.  There were school buildings with large classrooms, and both children and teachers had been provided with uniforms.  Meanwhile, vocational classes were taking place in subjects such as motor mechanics, sewing and computing.  Students having a carpentry lesson, making coconut scrapers, showed both pride and pleasure in their work, which was heartening.  The camp was also equipped with play areas, a telecommunications centre, a post office and several banks.

During his trip to Vavuniya, the Secretary General also visited a number of the rehabilitation centres for LTTE cadres.  These were located in school buildings and hostels, which had all the necessary facilities, albeit sometimes in limited quantities.

A total of 9,500 LTTE cadres are being held, having either surrendered or been identified by the Security Forces.  The Secretary General urged that a list be put up in each of the IDP centres so that people would know where to find their family members, but judging by the number of visitors that the LTTE cadres were receiving, relatives had already been informed about the fate of their loved ones.  Women had been separated from men, and there was a combination of old and new recruits in each location.  Female soldiers were in charge of the camps in which the female cadres were being held, while male soldiers guarded the male cadres.  One of the women had just delivered a baby, for which she had been taken to the local hospital, and plans were being made to reunite them with her family.  In all the rehabilitation centres, relations between the inmates and security personnel seemed good.

While facilities for washing, cooking and sleeping were in place, activities were limited.  Some of the camps had televisions and sports equipment, but not all.  Books were in short supply.  The vocational training that has been planned for LTTE cadres had not started, although English and Sinhala lessons were available in a few locations.  The Secretary General was concerned that this might lead to boredom, and encouraged the commanders to get the inmates engaged in dancing, singing and playing games, even if formal education had to wait for centrally organised programmes to start.

In addition, the party heard some excellent singing from inmates.  On returning to Colombo, the Secretary General contacted the Sr Lanka Broadcasting Corporation to suggest a talent competition in the rehabilitation centres, to showcase particular skills.

To sum up the situation, despite difficulties the various state agencies are working well with the Competent Authority and the Government Agent to ensure that things are getting better all the time for those who had suffered so much previously while in LTTE captivity.



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