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The Plight of Vanni Refugees

"When shells started falling in the vicinity of our tank, I knew that the dreaded moment had come. We collected all what we could and left with a heavy heart. Leaving the paddy behind was very hurting. I felt I was deserting the paddy I had nurtured, irrigated, fertilized, invested all my savings in and toiled over so much. It is a feeling one can only realize by experiencing it and not through expressing in words."



by K. Mylvaganam, reporting from Vanni

(August 31, Kilinochchi, Sri Lanka Guardian) The Sambur, Muthur and Vaharai tragedies are being repeated in Vanni. The only difference is the Internally Displaced People (IDP) from the above mentioned areas were driven into the army-controlled areas. But those vacated their residences from places like Mannar, Madhu, Vavuniya North, Vavunikulam, Vannerikulam and Akkarayankulam, Manalaru and Oddusuddan have moved towards the heart of Vanni, which is under the control of the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE).

Even though the refugees, who moved towards the heart of Vanni, have escaped from the indiscriminate shelling from the artillery by vacating from their places of residence and their work places, yet they are subject to vicious aerial bombings around their temporary shelters. Even the circling of the bombers over their heads makes them shiver. There are instances where pregnant mothers have had sudden abortions as well. Small children from among the IDPs, unable to absorb all these displacements, unfamiliar environments and new faces, have difficulties in coping with the changes. Missing their friends and their school has had adverse effects on them. Above all, the roaring noise of the bombers terrifies them very severely. These have caused nervous problems among many of them. While I was in a refugee camp, an ever-silver cup was accidentally dropped on the floor. I noticed how the children got agitated and reacted over that noise. The nervous look of fear on their faces spoke of their mental status. Some even screamed on hearing the fall of the cup. According to the parents, some children have turned unusually aggressive. They refuse to eat and even obey the parents.

I spoke to a few and the experience of one of them is given below. His narration will hold good for most of the IDPs.

Ramasamy Sundaram states:

“We are from Poonakari and have four children, two girls and two boys. They all are between ten and five. I own a two acre paddy field apart from the half an acre of high land, where I had nine goats, three cows and some poultry. I have put all my savings into the paddy field. People living a few kilometres south of our village were moving through our village as their village was subject to shelling. This caused panic among us. We were aware that it won’t be long before the same fate will befall on us as well. The harvest should begin by the end of this month or in the first week of September. Even though there was a wishful thinking in my mind that the enemy will not come closer to us, but common sense was pointing to the opposite. If we are to move, what to do with all what we have, what and what we can take with us and how to transport them, and where to go were the questions that we were confronted with. Questions were aplenty but answers were nil. A trailer will cost around Rs.6, 000.00 to 10,000.00 depending on the distance of our destination. My biggest worry was the paddy field. I have put all our savings into it and if I have to leave before the harvest I will become a pauper. I have been a farmer all my life and if we have to move where shall we move to? What can I do for our living? Since lakhs and lakhs [hundreds of thousands] of people are on the move, everyone like me will also be looking out to work as a labourer. Then the competition will rise and the emolument will sink or unemployment will prevail. I felt awful to see the frightened faces of my wife and children, all of whom are school-going kids. One thing I was certain and it was that the decision had to be taken and taken very soon, as the sounds of the shells were nearing. It is an awful feeling and the trauma I underwent at that time was horrible.

This is a picture of a single mother with four kids in the hot sun, tired of walking. She stopped to pause for this photo. She said that her husband succumbed recently to an artillery shell by the SL army. As one can see, she is empty handed and had no possessions to carry. I dread to think what her future has in store for her and how I wwould feel if I were in her shoes.
When shells started falling in the vicinity of our tank, I knew that the dreaded moment had come. We collected all what we could and left with a heavy heart. Leaving the paddy behind was very hurting. I felt I was deserting the paddy I had nurtured, irrigated, fertilized, invested all my savings in and toiled over so much. It is a feeling one can only realize by experiencing it and not through expressing in words.

We reached Mullankavil, where we were sheltered in temporary sheds. There was no privacy as too many people were put in there.

The Tamil Rehabilitation Organisation gave us cooked food for two days and thereafter some International Organisation provided us with dry rations. Another such organisation gave us some bedding and some cooking utensils.

This picture needs no description. Two days after these pictures were taken there was a down pour of rain on two consecutive days. The school in the background was already filled with refugees, who reached there earlier.

After some time, the shelling started falling closer to Mullankavil as well. Hence, we had to move again and now we are in Mutkomban. The sanitation here is very unsatisfactory. Drinking water is in short supply but for bathing and washing clothes there is a tank close by. After having led a fairly comfortable life in our own house, this is something we never expected to happen overnight; nor do we deserve it, because we did no harm to anyone.

From here whereto next is in the minds of all those in this camp. But no one has the answer.”

I took several photos and spoke with many and listened to their heart-rendering and distressing episodes. Unfortunately, everything cannot be included in this article. Some were sick and there were pregnant mothers also.

The statistics obtained from the Government Agents of Mullaitivu and Kilinochchi are appended. These reflect the numbers as on 21.08.2008. But people are still on the move even after the above date. You will note that a total number of 249,527 persons have already become IDPs within a short period. It is almost a quarter million. And how many more to come, nobody knows.

Some people have moved even to four or five refugees camps in different areas as the artillary shell were following them from behind.

My humble appeal to our Tamil Diaspora is to contact the TRO, SEDOT or any authorised representatives of the Tamils in your areas and impart what ever financial help you can to eliviate the miseries of these IDPs.

Kindly do not wait for them to come to you. You go to them please. These IDPs need your help urgently.
- Sri Lanka Guardian

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