South Asians for Human Rights

Promoting Democracy, Upholding Human Rights

By Maryam Azwer

Twenty years since they were evicted by the LTTE, Northern Muslims are finally able to return home. State records show that families are now leaving areas where they have resided all these years, such as Puttalam, where the majority of evicted Northern Muslims had settled down.

According to records, these families have now registered themselves as voters in the North, shedding away their former identities as internally displaced persons, or IDPs.

However, according to a recent statement by the Citizens’ Commission on the Expulsion of Muslims from the Northern Province by the LTTE, this registration of returnees has not meant that the Northern Muslim IDP issue has come to an end.

“Although many have cancelled their IDP registration in Puttalam, and registered as returnees in the North, many have not physically moved out of the Puttalam area,” said the Citizens’ Commission.

“This is presenting a variety of problems for the Northern Muslims as well as the local administration. Northern Muslims that we have spoken to say that they registered in the North out of fear that they may not be able to do so if they did not do it immediately.  They were informed that they should register so that the Government will have some sense of the numbers that want to return. They tell us that they have not gone back – despite registering – because many of them don’t have land, houses or jobs in the North, and there isn’t enough infrastructure to provide education and health care services for their families,” stated the Commission.

“The people come here, and register themselves here, but because they can’t obtain basic living facilities they go back,” explained Jaffna Municipal Council member Moulavi B.A.S. Sufyan. “Around 2,000 families returned to Jaffna, but only 400 of them have settled down. The other 1,600 went back,” he said.

Dr. Farzana Haniffa, Convener of the Citizens’ Commission, said that on paper, statistics show that around 90% of Northern Muslim IDPs have returned to their places of origin.

In reality however, many of these people have remained where they have lived all these years, which in most cases is Puttalam. “But because they have cancelled their registration, they are no longer recognised by the Puttalam administration,” said Dr. Haniffa.

“One issue that arose as a result of this is that rations were discontinued without the people being informed. The people have coupons, but no rations to match the coupons,” she added.

Among the issues faced by returning IDPs is their inability to locate their homes and lands after a lapse of more than two decades.

Managing Trustee of the Community Trust Fund (CTF) in Puttalam, Jansila Majeed, said that “while identifying lands is one problem, the other problem is that, in some cases, what twenty years ago was one family, may now have become four families. Also, housing support is not given to people without lands, so basic necessities, such as bathroom facilities, aren’t available to many of them.”

Despite the ongoing resettlement process, Majeed said that the issue of the displaced Northern Muslims remains rather complex. “Some people have settled down in Puttalam, and don’t want to leave at all,” she said.

Source: The Sunday Leader – 05.07.2011