Kantale: Now a town of refugees
Kantale has virtually been turned into a refugee
town with thousands of residents, displaced by clashes between government
forces and the LTTE, in Mutur and Serunuwara seeking safety in this
With authorities finding it difficult to provide
adequate accommodation, food and other amenities, desperate refugees
are putting up temporary shelters wherever they can find space-even
Authorities say they have accounted for about
26,500 refugees staying in refugee centres, while there are many
more unaccounted for, who are staying in makeshift camps along the
|Refugees from Serunuwara at the Agrabhodi
Pirivena. Pix by Gemunu Wellage.
According to latest official figures there are
7334 refugees in Perathuveli Muslim School, 7227in Ayesha Muslim
School, 6318 in Al Tharik Muslim School, 1500 in Al Rauf Muslim
School, 954 in Assapa Muslim School, 1271 in Al Muniri mosque, 1127
in Agrabhodi Pirivena, 246 in the restroom of the railway station
and 165 in the Batukachchiya Muslim School.
The whole town is beginning to look like one big
refugee centre, with scenes of refugees streaming in on foot, or
being transported in vehicles, volunteers distributing food and
other essentials, officials collecting data on these displaced people,
and refugees going in search of relatives and friends.
Those who have not been lucky enough to find shelter
in schools or mosques or camp sites have put up makeshift shelters
under the shade of trees or carts. Some have even put together gunny
bags and have sought shelter under it.
|S. Dawood: Lucky to be alive
The refugee centres are bursting at their seams and people complain
of insufficient food, water sanitary facilities and medicies.
In some cases the situation is so bad that desperate
refugees say they would rather go back to their homes and even face
the security risk rather than live in conditions they are undergoing
“I want to go back to Serunuwara. The situation here is bad.
The facilities here are hopelessely inadequate especially toilet
facilities,” lamented Leelawathi Gamage who is staying in
a camp in the compound of the Agrabhodi Pirivena.
Although K.D.S Suriyabandara, a camp-coordinating
officer appointed by the Kantale Divisional Secretariat said that
the government was providing adequate food and other facilities,
the refugees we spoke to in the camps had a different story.
Most of them said they were getting very little
assistance from the government and they were surviving on assistance
mainly from NGOs.
“We have been staying in this overcrowded
camp for about two weeks but not a single government official came
to see about our welfare,” said Mohammed Hafees while waiting
in line for a loaf of bread at the Al Tharik Muslim school.
|A security check along the Kantale-Habarana
Although the refugees appeared to be thankful to
the assistance of NGOs and we saw many of them helping out in many
ways, government officials at the camps held a different view.They
accused NGO workers of distributing aid randomly and being more
interested in posing for photographs with those they had helped.
Some of the refugees spoke about what they feel
the government should do if they are to return to their homes in
Mutur and Serunuwara.They insist that army bunkers be built in Sampoor,
Senayur and Rarkuli to protect them from LTTE threats in the future.
“I want to go back home. I left all my valuables
and came but they will chase us again. The government should see
that bunkers are put up at strategic points so that we don’t
have to live in fear all the time,” said A.J. Ansar from Mutur
whose elder brother died in an artillery attack by the LTTE.
There were others who recalled the terror and
chaos that prevailed when they were caught in the fighting between
the armed forces and the LTTE.
S.Dawood (64) from Mutur described the intense
battles that broke out on August 3 that forced many to seek refuge
in a mosque which however was hit by a motar that killed five people
including his son-in-law and injured about 40.As the battle intensified
the next day about 2000 Muslim residents started fleeing the area.
On the way he recalled how they had been stopped by LTTE cadres
who had asked them to take the route through the jungle as the main
road had been mined. He said as they started going through the jungle
they were suddenly accosted by LTTE cadres whose faces had been
covered. “We were held there from 8 a.m. to 3 p.m. The LTTE
cadres then picked out the young and strong looking men and tied
them up. Suddenly there was the sound of artillery fire. Some who
were with us died on the spot while we started running for our dear
lives. However the younger men who were tied up couldn’t come
away with us,” Dawood said.
K.D.N. Kumara a Year 11 student from Serunuwara
recounted his painful experience when he was hit by a bullet in
his stomach at 6.30 in the morning on August 2 .
“I was going to see my brother when I was
hit by a bullet. I was later admitted to hospital and thereafter
was brought to this camp where I’m now”, Kumara said
while resting at the Agrabhodi Pirivena.
His mother Premasili Ramyalatha whose husband
had gone missing in 1994 at the height of the war said they lived
near the Serunuwara police station and when the LTTE started attacking
the police they fled to Kantale. She said thay had chosen to live
close to the police station after the LTTE had attacked Mahindapura
in an earlier incident when they were living there.
J.A.Muthumanike from the same area said that she
fled leaving everything behind. She said she had bought six-acres
of paddy field after mortgaging even her gold jewellery.
Most of the refugees who have sought refuge in
Kantale are Muslims. About 1500 Sinhalese too are staying in two
camps at the Agrabhodi Pirivena and a restroom at the railway station
With the rainy season starting these refugees
fear that they are certain to face more hardships .
tales of woe
As a team of journalists from Puttlam accompanied a group
headed by Deputy Minister D.M.Dassanayake to distribute food
and other aid to the displaced in Kantale, many refugees lamented
the inadequate and inequal food distribution. The displaced
at Serunuwara Mahaweli Maha vidyalaya said although arrangements
had been made to provide them meals and dry rations, they
didn’t receive the food because a group of people had
waylaid those who were distributing the food and robbed them.
Nadika Pushpakumari lamented that she couldn’t get even
a few biscuits for her young child who yearned to have some.
Kanthi a mother of four said her husband had been killed by
the LTTE. The little paddy she had cultivated was now all
destroyed after the closing of the anicut and she fears that
there is no future for her and her children.
During discussions held some of the refugees said that there
were still many Muslims hiding in the jungles in fear of the
LTTE and appeals had been made to ICRC to rescue them.
Mr. Dassanayake later met the prelate of the Anubodhi pirivena,
Rev. Yatawara Pugnarathana Thera and assured him that all
relief would be given to the refugees.