Real life in Menik Farmhttp://www.lakbimanews.lk/special/spe5.htm
by Thava Sajitharan reporting from Menik Farm, Vavuniya
The Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs) at the Menik Farm camps say although they are relieved to have been sheltered in these transitional villages after managing to flee the intense fighting, they are dismayed over not being allowed to visit their relatives outside the camps. Some of them have relatives who are willing to host them, but they are not allowed to go due to ‘security concerns’.
As one travels from Madavachi towards Cheddi-kulam, the sparsely populated area abruptly expands into massive human settlements housing over 260, 000 IDPs - standing possibly as one of the final yet deep scars of Sri Lanka’s decades long war.
Faced with daunting challenges in managing and resettling the IDPs, the government is admittedly striving towards improving the situation in all these camps. This firsthand-account of the IDPs is based on a brief ‘supervised’ visit the writer, along with a foreign journalist paid to Zone o and Zone 4, last week.
For the IDPs housed in the ‘Kathirgamar Relief Village’ (Zone 0) of Menik Farm, the government has provided many facilities fundamentally needed for human life except the one most desired by people living there - the freedom of movement.
In contrast, in Zone 4, where those who came to the cleared areas during the final stages of the war in May are kept, their conditions are dismal. As it has been pointed out earlier by many others, conditions in Menik Farm vary from camp to camp.
Many people housed in Zone 4 are suffering from a variety of communicable diseases. Children and elderly persons have been identified as the most vulnerable groups. The doctors tasked with treating these people say that children were dehydrated when they came from the battle areas. Among the most prevalent diseases are chickenpox, hepatitis and typhoid. There is a makeshift hospital where patients are being treated. The officials say that there are also the peripheral health centers attending to patients.
Some are suffering from trauma and nightmares. Selvi* (25), says she had to run over hundreds of dead bodies while clinging on to her one-year-old child to reach safety.
“We were staying inside an open bunker for eight days.”
“The firing was so intense that we had no option but to leave,” she says.
Her husband served as a paid “policeman” with the LTTE. He surrendered to the government when he crossed over to the cleared area. Selvi, however, does not know her husband’s whereabouts. The security forces who detained her husband, did not issue any paper document either, she says.
There are numerous similar stories. The military suspects that many of the families in the Zone 4, have had close links with the LTTE because “they remained (with the LTTE) till the last moment.”
The failure on the part of the government to issue official notices with regard to the detainees to their family members has been a cause for serious concern.
Sivalakshmi*, a 46-year-old mother of three, who crossed over to the government controlled area on February 16 this year, and now lives in the Kathirgamar village, complains she could not even attend the funeral of her 12-yea-old niece who died in Puthumathalan, while attempting to escape gun fire. One of her two daughters is living in another camp with her husband and children and Sivalakshmi is not allowed to meet them either.
With tears rolling down her fragile shrunken cheeks, she said that she and her husband had to abandon the little boutique they ran in Murukandi, and now live separately in different camps.
“What sin did we commit to deserve this fate? What hope do we have now?” she weeps.
She admits that many of their needs are met in the camp. “Our needs have been attended to by the authorities. We have been provided with rations and other things, but there are some lapses like a dearth of toilets ... and we have to stand in long queues. Sometimes there is no water.”
Arrangements have been made for the relatives of the IDPs living outside the camps to visit them, but under certain conditions. “We are allowed to talk to relatives but standing behind barbed fences,” Sivalakshmi states.
Another person said they were getting rice, dhal and sugar on a regular basis but vegetables and complementary items such as salt were scarce.
The situation in Menik Farm betrays the confusion in the avowed commitment by the government to look after the IDPs on one hand and the anxiety to weed out perceived security threats - the possible presence of LTTE elements in the camps - on the other.
Major General G. A. Chandrasiri, the Competent Authority for IDPs, while assuring that he and others are working hard to “address the issue to the best of our abilities,” does not mince words when it comes to security.
“We do not neglect the security aspect, however,” he notes firmly.
“About 10,000 LTTE cadres have already surrendered,” the General said. According to him, the ex-cadres will be sent to rehabilitation centers after initial investigations are carried out.
In the Kathirgamar village, the government, with the help of humanitarian agencies has set up schools, pre schools, banks, post offices, vocational training centers etc. Despite the shortcomings, the efforts to improve the living conditions of the IDPs are evident.
During the visit, we were shown a host of new “emergency shelters” that were put up in Marudha-madu with the help of UNHCR. Emergency shelters are an interim arrangement for those who are living in tents and are suffering from unbearable heat, to be transferred to. In the next phase, people would be moved from these emergency shelters to what are called the “semi permanent huts”.
According to the General, the government is expediting the decongestion process. Six schools in the Vavuniya District that housed the IDPs have already been cleared to resume educational activities. While speeding up the demining process to facilitate resettlement, the government is also planning to set up the “manageable zones”. Three such zones are to be constructed and each would shelter 5000 IDPs.
*Pseudonyms have been used to preserve the identity of the IDPs.