Eyewitness account from Sri Lanka – Tamil behind barbed wire Concentration Camps

Written by: An NGO in Sri Lanka
A partner NGO supported by Christian Aid UK-Ireland has gathered stories from people living in the “welfare centres” in northern Sri Lanka. Here are their accounts: “My husband was pushing me on a bicycle, searching for safe areas”, says a disabled mother, paralysed from the waist down. “In the worst of the fighting we lost the bicycle – I was in a bad situation. Ultimately we all had to scatter and the family was separated. Somehow we were able to get out of the war zone and reach a safer place. We were then locked up in a fenced area, isolated from the people outside. But we were alive.”

“There are many sad stories in the camp – so many people have been separated and everyone is longing to see the faces of their family members.”

“My neighbour, who is mother of seven children and eight month pregnant, had been running along with us. In the second hideout where some of our village people were hiding, she lost three children from bombing. We do not know who was responsible. It was so horrid to hear her pain of losing her three children. She was telling us that she did not even cry that much when her ailing husband died.”

“During our flight, she lost another three children and one was killed. At this point she wanted to commit suicide by hanging herself. We all stopped her from doing so. She wanted to escape from that place. While she was running, something exploded and she lost her leg. In the pain, she was pleading for taking her to hospital which none of us could. We do not know what happen to her.”

The mother was relieved to escape the violence and reach the safety of the government camp. But the plight of the displaced people does not end here.

“We are prevented from freely meeting with visitors. Even if we can make contact with our families outside, all we can do is talk to them through the wire fence. The people are suffering under these rigid restrictions. Wives, husbands, children, friends are kept apart and cannot share their painful feelings or support each other.”

Due to multiple displacements most people have lost almost all their belongings. With minimal resources they move from place to place, on tractors, bicycles or on foot, through jungle, marshes and minefields – a seemingly endless search for safety, a chance for survival.

Arriving at government camps impoverished, exhausted and sick, the new arrivals often face crowded conditions. In many cases people are grouped together, irrespective of age, gender or disability, in rooms without any partitions for privacy.

Sometimes people have to sleep in corridors; even spaces adjoining the toilets are utilised. The camp residents want to live in separate huts with their family members.

Inequality can also be a source of frustration.

“A few of the displaced people are able to get food from outside. They’re eating very well. But our children are hungry. They see this abundance and they long for a good meal. Such things are not available to most of us.”

One man says: “We belong to a fishing community; if we are allowed to live in coastal areas we can make a living. We can gradually re-establish our livelihood and support ourselves.”

The mother continues: “I hear the crying of many mothers who have school age children. They all repeat, we have lost all our hard-earned belongings. We want to get back the time and opportunities our children are missing by not going to school and not being able to study and work hard. We all treasure education as wealth, if that too is denied, what is the point of living?”

Source: http://www.alertnet.org/db/blogs/57630/2009/03/2-103102-1.htm
02 Apr 2009