It is widely claimed that the government has not
treated the Muslim Tsunami victims fairly. According to
statistics maintained by the Task Force to Rebuild the Nation (TAFREN)
not a single house has been constructed during the last one year
to resettle those Muslim ‘Tsunami’ victims within the 200 meter
area from the sea in the Ampara, Batticaloa and Trincomalee
Districts in the Eastern Province.
The situation in the South is different. In
Hambantota, the need is only 1,057 houses. But the donors have
been allocated 4,852 houses. A recent internal memo said that
the number of houses donors have been assigned was 11 times more
than what was required within Hambantota.
Thousands of Muslim Tsunami victims in the
Eastern Province have been languishing in several temporary
camps without sufficient food, medicines and other basic
facilities. Muslims who are trying to resettle in their own land
are still receiving threats from the government bureaucracy. In
fact they are deprived of their fundamental human rights.
In the three districts of Ampara, Batticaloa and
Trincomalee alone there are 22,644 houses to be reconstructed.
In Batticaloa the need is for 4,426 houses while in Ampara, the
worst affected district, the need is for 12,481. While
construction has commenced on 1,200 houses in Ampara, in
Batticaloa only 511 units are under construction according to
figures maintained by TAFREN and Housing Ministry.
Ampara, the country’s worst affected district is
a glaring example of how ineffective institutions, political
rivalries and misinformation can make a mockery of disaster
management. Not a single house has been built within the 200
meters from the sea in the coastal Muslim areas of Maruthamunai,
Kalmunai, Sainthamaruthu, Ninthavur, Oluvil, Addalachchenai,
Akkaraipattu and Pottuvil.
In the LTTE controlled areas of Batticaloa
District, the TRO (Tamil Rehabilitation Organisation) a LTTE-backed
organisation has been channelling funds to resettle the affected
Tamil people. But Kattankudy’s coastal villages such as New
Kattankudy, Palamunai and other Muslim areas still remain
Mutur, Kinniya, Kuchchaveli Pulmoddai and
Trincomalee town are the Divisional Secretariats Divisions in
the Trincomalee District where thousands of Muslims have been
affected by the Tsunami. Political confusion has greatly
contributed to the mismanagement of relief. LTTE held areas in
the district have come under LTTE-backed relief and resettlement
programmes. But Muslim areas are still suffering without
adequate infrastructure development.
The Muslim Reconstruction and Resettlement
Organisation - MRRO conducted a survey by visiting each and
every family in the Tsunami effected Muslim areas in the Eastern
Province to assess the damages to houses.
Over 8,000 tsunami survivors have complained to
the Disaster Relief Monitoring Unit (DRMU) of the Human Rights
Commission of Sri Lanka about the delay and the violation of
UN Guiding Principles
The Guiding Principles on Internal Displacement
were adopted by the UN Commission on Human Rights and Economic
and Social Council in 1998.
Rights of IDPs
Persons who have been forced to flee or to leave
their homes or place of habitual residence, as a result of armed
conflict, violence, natural or man-made disaster and who have
not crossed an internationally recognised State border, are
known as Internally Displaced Persons. Those who have been
displaced due to Tsunami fall into the category of IDPs. They
are entitled to all human rights enjoyed by the other citizens.
In addition, they have special needs which should be addressed
by the state authorities.
Choice of Residence
Principle 15: The IDPs have the right to remain
in the area they used to reside before the displacement or have
the right to move to any other part of the country or another
country on their free will. This right is crucial for those who
have lost their families, homes and belongings and have
completely been uprooted.
The IDPs have abandoned their property in haste
and are not able to secure them. Especially, the boundaries of
the lands may not be visible due to natural disasters such as
the Tsunami. The property remaining in the possession of the
IDPs is also prone to theft. The responsible authorities have to
take steps to protect the property of the IDPs against such
Right to Return or Resettle
IDPs have the right to return voluntarily, in
safety and with dignity, to their previous homes or resettle
voluntarily in another area of the country. Right to return or
resettle is vital especially when the cause of the displacement
is ceased. For example, Tsunami victims are entitled to return
or resettle if the danger of another Tsunami is absent.
After resettlement, the IDPs should not face
discrimination as a result of having been displaced. They, like
all other citizens, have an equal right to participate in public
affairs and to have access to public services.
Land available to resettle the Muslim Tsunami
The government has relaxed the hotly-debated 200
metre buffer zone in the coastal areas due to the difficulties
in finding alternate land to resettle the Tsunami affected
The buffer zone in Mutur, Kinniya, Kuchchaveli
in the Trincomalee District has been reduced to 60 metres,
Kattankudy in Batticlao District to 80 metres, Pottuvil and
Arugambay to 50 metres, and Kalmunai to 65 metres in the Ampara
Urban Development Ministry Secretary confirming
the relaxation of the buffer zone regulations said that the
revisions came after representations from various quarters
seeking permission for construction purposes.
More than 2,000 Acres owned by Muslim Tsunami
Victims are available within the 200 meters from the sea in the
Ampara District - 1,000 Acres - Maruthamunai
120 Acres, Kalmunai 220 Acres, Sainthamaruthu 20 Acres,
Ninthavur 220 Acres, Oluvil 20 Acres, Addalachchenai 50 Acres,
Akkaraipattu 70 Acres and Pottuvil 280 Acres
Batticaloa District - 300 Acres - Kattankudy
240 Acres, Palamunai 40 Acres and Poonochchimunai 20 Acres
Trincomalee District - 700 Acres - Mutur 140
Acres, Kinniya 435 Acres, Kuchchaveli90 Acres and Trincomalee
Town 35 Acres
Reconstruction and Resettlement
Tsunami has affected only the coastal belt. For
almost all those who were affected, only what they were left
with was the plot of land they lived in. It is not proper for
the government to adopt a policy of frightening people with
warnings of future tsunamis.
The victims of Tsunami should be consulted and
treated with dignity. This consultation should not only be with
those in refugee camps, but also with those who have been
displaced, made destitute and live with friends and relations.
Involving the victims in re-building the coastal
areas has to be given the highest priority. Village level
welfare committees should be established including all stake
This disaster should be turned into an
opportunity for planned reconstruction and resettlement in the
When we talk about planned resettlement of
Tsunami victims within the 200 meter areas, we are talking about
an extremely diverse population. In addition to their
socio-economic differences, there are also other characteristics
that need to be taken in to account. These include ethnicity,
religion, culture, age, health condition, and gender. All these
factors need careful attention in the process of resettlement.
If not, it can lead to serious problems.
The biggest challenge the Government is facing
to-day is to rebuild the lives of the tsunami affected. This
requires reconstruction of their damaged houses and providing
them with the means of earning a living.
For planning the rebuilding and resettlement
programme in the 200 metre buffer zone area, it is essential to
have reliable and accurate information about the impact on the
lives and properties destroyed by the "Tsunami". It is a complex
process that should be handled with care with the full
participation of all stakeholders at the grass roots level. If
this is not done properly, it can have adverse effects on the
quality of life of the victims.
The extent and the value of land and other
assets owned by the affected families cannot be ignored in
finding solutions to their resettlement problems. No arbitrarily
designed resettlement should be imposed on helpless victims of
Tsunami, as such solutions are likely to aggravate the problems
of the people who are already traumatised. Makeshift housing
should be replaced by permanent structures at a reasonable
distance from the beach.
The Muslim areas and the families affected by
the Tsunami in the Eastern Province are within the
administrative and security control of Sri Lanka Government (GOSL).
All those who are engaged in resettlement related activities
should work within the framework of the local bodies. At present
all the local bodies in the predominant Muslim Area in the
Eastern Province do not have the capacity to manage a massive
planed resettlement and reconstruction programme of this
The people affected expect individual attention
and specific solutions to suit different families. The agencies
that deal with issues of livelihood restoration will be required
to visit each family and or household to find out how best they
can be assisted.
This is a painstaking exercise but we have no
choice in the matter if the objective is to help the people who
lost their livelihood regain their economic strength within a
reasonable period of time.