MANIK FARM (NORTH SRI LANKA): A delegation of MPs from India, who are on a fact-finding mission in Sri Lanka’s war-torn Northern Province, on Wednesday visited Manik Farm, the last functioning refugee camp, and spoke to the inmates.
“We broke into four groups and spoke to the inmates freely. They told us they were eager to go back to their homes in Pudukudiyiruppu in Mullaitivu,” said T K Rangarajan of the CPM. The refugees arrived in Manik Farm camp three years ago.
Congress MP Dr E M Sudarsana Natchiappan said the government officials present at the camp promised to send the refugees back by June, after the land around Pudukudiyiruppu was cleared of land mines.
The MPs found that there was no restriction on the movement of the refugees. “Most of them go out to Vavuniya to work. Some stay away from the camp for weeks,” Rangarajan said. As for their earning capacity, he was told that the wages in Vavuniya varied from LKR 500 to LKR 1000 per day.
According to T K Rangarajan, the inmates complained of the poor quality of the rice supplied at the camp. When queried, a camp official said the task of determining the type and quality of the rice had been given to the UN’s World Food Programme (WFP), which also paid for it. At least one refugee came forward to say that her son had been taken away, presumably by the Security Forces, and not returned.
“She asked us to get the Lankan government to trace him,” he said. Arbitrary detentions, abductions and disappearances have been a major problem since the war against the LTTE began in 2006.
At Puliyankulam, north of Vavuniya, the MPs saw an agricultural seed farm and newly dug wells and a house full of harvested paddy. Here 35 families of returnees had been settled over 140 acres. They also inspected a house built with Indian aid. India has undertaken to construct 50,000 houses for the war displaced. “Some seemed satisfied with the houses while others complained,” said Sudarsana Natchiappan of the Congress.
Opening a community centre, the leader of the delegation, Sushma Swaraj, told a 500-strong audience of resettled Tamils that she and her colleagues were saddened by the plight of the refugees who had lived through a conflict.
Basil Rajapaksa, Lanka’s Economic Development Minister, took the MPs around Puliyankulam.