Focus on the humanitarian crisis

While city dwellers of Colombo and suburbs must deal with the ever-present threat of real bombs and hoax bomb calls, the recurrent problem for Sri Lankans living in the North-East, is how to avoid being caught in the crossfire. They are sandwiched between the Government's security forces trying to restrain the rebels of the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) and the LTTE trying to provoke the military and the public to an ethnic backlash.

Our special correspondent visited Mannar and Talaimannar this week to get a first-hand account (please see page 6) of the plight of these hapless people fleeing now in a continuous stream across the Palk Straits to safety in the Southern Indian state of Tamil Nadu.

They are leaving their homes, belongings and property, all to escape possible Air Force bombings, and tit-for-tat retaliatory attacks from victims of LTTE atrocities in the villages of that area. They live in what are called Government-controlled areas, but do not want to go to what are called 'LTTE-controlled areas' because they fear their children will be forcibly recruited to the rebel group.

Economically, they are the lower middle class, people with the usual mod-cons at home and with sufficient cash to hire a bus to take them across the country to the north-west coast of Government-controlled Mannar, and a fishing craft to cross the Palk Straits. They've done it before; sadly, now it seems the only option available to the state of uncertainty and despair they find themselves in, in this more than two decades-old 'civil war' that has ravaged this country.

For the fishermen of Mannar, their desperate flight is manna from heaven. They have been banned from night-fishing due to LTTE activities -- and night-time is the best time to make their best catch -- so now they've turned to transporting these frightened families across the troubled waters to India.

The Indian authorities seem to take a benign view of the matter -- for the moment -- saying they treat it as a humanitarian problem, and that they can cope with the current influx to their country. Yet they cannot but be mindful of the fact that 68,000 Sri Lankans still remain in Tamil Nadu ever since the 1983 riots in Sri Lanka, and that with the fighting resuming after the 2002 Ceasefire was broken, the numbers are rising -- as many as 2000 since January this year. Not surprisingly, their presence has caused some friction among the local population, so it is quite natural for the Indian government to show some concern.

However, having said that, the Indian government in general, and the Tamil Nadu state government in particular, have a greater moral responsibility for having very much aggravated this 'humanitarian problem' in Sri Lanka by having actively bank-rolled, trained and given succour to the rebels once upon a time. Therefore they cannot simply sit back and wish this issue away. It is indeed a problem they created and now they will have to face it and find a way of dealing with it.

These unfortunate people, when asked by our Special Correspondent why they wouldn't consider staying in government refugee camps until the volatile situation subsided, said that they do not feel safe in such camps.

The Government is concerned that these fleeing refugees would give the world the wrong impression that there is a full-scale war in Sri Lanka and that people feel unsafe to stay in the country. The rebels are also quite astute at exploiting the situation to gain some propaganda mileage from this field of human misery. But from all indications, and even if the rebels do get some spin-off benefit from the refugees going across, they have very little to do with this migration of families to Tamil Nadu.

There was some concern in Sri Lanka as to what the outcome of the recent Tamil Nadu elections would be with the advent of a new Chief Minister. However, as it turned out, this is the new Chief Minister's sixth time in office.

From our own reports, we were told that the new generation of Tamil Nadu state legislators is more concerned about their lap-tops, mobile phones and foreign licensed cars than the LTTE cause. That might explain why the likes of LTTE spokesman Vaiko lost at the polls.

But a situation such as this -- the growing influx of refugees into that state -- is bound to become an issue sooner than later. President Mahinda Rajapaksa has reacted fast in sending a special envoy in CWC leader Arumugam Thondaman to meet Chief Minister Mutuvel Karunanidhi. But at home, there is much more to be done -- and what is paramount is to ensure that the terrified Sri Lankans in the vulnerable areas in the country are given as much state protection as possible from the inevitable crossfire when a 'civil war' is raging. It is a tragedy indeed that they feel they have no choice but to leave their homeland to stay alive.



No. 8, Hunupitiya Cross Road, Colombo 2. P.O. Box: 1136, Colombo 2, Sri Lanka.
Tel: 2326247, 2328889, 2433272-3. Fax: 2423922, 2423258
Editor - editor@sundaytimes.wnl.lk
News - stnews@sundaytimes.wnl.lk
Features - features@sundaytimes.wnl.lk
Financial Times- ft@sundaytimes.wnl.lk
Subs Desk - subdesk@sundaytimes.wnl.lk,
Funday Times - funtimes@wijeya.lk

No. 48, Parkway Building, Park Street, Colombo 2, Sri Lanka
Tel: 0115330330, 0115330808, 0115330808. Fax: 2314864
Email: adve@lankabellnet.com


No. 47, W.A.D. Ramanayake Mawatha, Colombo 2, Sri Lanka.
Tel: 2435454, 2448322, 0114714252. Fax: 2459725

Back To Top Back to Top   Back To Index Back to Index

Copyright © 2006 Wijeya Newspapers Ltd. All rights reserved.
Please send your comments and suggestions on this web site to