Linda is sitting on the grubby white sand , legs curled under her, the blue dress a little torn at the shoulder. She is watching a bubbling fish curry on an open hearth in front of the yellowing plastic tent, quite oblivious to the fact that the tent is but inches away from catching fire.
The steady drizzle is turning into a downpour and signals the looming North-East monsoon . Her toddler in the tent away from the rain is howling away not wanting to be separated from her mother. The tent is sparse with two black suitcases and the toddler clutches a plastic elephant probably distributed by an NGO.
The children and some of their mums sit at the door step of a rice mill turned into a camp, literaly watching the pot on the stove. Some are amused by the camera and is curious as children are…
These scenes are nothing new – we’ve seen it many times over and over.
The displaced by conflict, is as old as the conflict. This latest wave of displaced from the Muslim and Tamil minority communities have swelled conflict-induced internally displaced people (IDPs) in Sri Lanka to be around nearly 500,000. In a country of approximately 20 million, it is ranked as one of the largest displacement crises in Asia in absolute terms and particularly in terms of the proportion of the population displaced, says the International Displacement Monitoring Center
Nanaddan, is a North West town in Sri Lanka which has been a refugee for the conflict affected recently. In the 1990’s people abandoned it as battles raged and houses, mosques and temples were destroyed.
The second IDP camp I visited was located on the left side across a muddy stretch of sand from the Community center hall where a meeting was in progress. Many of the women seated dressed in their best sarees at the Community center were shy at first and would only look at me sideways except for Nawazzia. She adjusted her green saree over her head and spoke in halting Sinhalese to say she was born here but left with her family when she was 6 years old. in the early 1990’s as the conflict intensified. After 14 years of residing in Galgamuwa in Kurunegala in the North Central Province she and her friends along with their families came back to Nanaddan and to their roots about six years ago. Families like hers have now welcomed the latest displaced to their village.
The camp is a gaggle of dirty white plastic tents. On its right stands the hollow shell of a pink and white mosque, damaged in the 1990s. It is now taken over by goats and women who sit in its shade for their daily gossip sessions. Outside the camp, a fierce argument is taking place between a man and a wife in a tractor. The children scramble around playing quite non-pulsed by the argument. The camps male elders come out to greet us and excuse the arguing couple saying these things happen in the best of circumstances.
. A.H. M Fowzie and J.M Kadhubdeen take the lead to relate how over seventy families from about six villages around Silvaturai a North West coastal town were asked to leave within two hours in early September. They left leaving most of their belongings optimistic that as it had happened in recent times they could get back to their villages in a week or so. Unfortunately, this is not the case now.
The first stretch of their trek was on foot to a point where the a military supplied bus had then transported them to Murunkan. They had decided on Nannadan as their temporary shelter as they knew it had a mosque – albeit a thatched shed now. Most men in the camp had been paddy farmers, fishermen or traders. They had no work now and all they want now is to get back to their land and their livelihoods — but sadly they themselves see no way in sight. Without work they depend on the dry rations and the hospitality of the more fortunate early IDPs who are a little better off than they are. No one has been told when they will get their next quota of dry rations.
As I turn to leave I meet the health nurse visiting the camp. Vivacious and attractive she springs a surprise. She has a Sinhala name Dharshini Perera but speaks no Sinhalese. A child of a mixed marriage her father is Sinhalese and the mother is Tamil.
She visits IDPs regularly in addition to the weekly visits made by the Public Health Officer. All children are schooling and their health is looked after. The children need tablets to get rid of worms and many have several problems –mainly skin and allergic reactions from the soil says Perera.
Eight year old Musha Banu whose left foot is stained yellow with medicine. “It is not painful ,”says Banu as she hobbles around following me with her toes curled up a grin on her face showing the loss of her baby teeth.
There is a general atmosphere of emptiness and dejection. Two young males K. Harun and A.M Nazeen sit in front of a bike leaning against a tree, while Basheera Harun’s three year old daughter plays with Munzi, Nazeen’s son. The children’s eyes sparkle with mischief as they smile coyly at the camera. Harun speaks in a deadpan voice but Nazeen not wanting to be photographed refuses to look at me and doodles on the sand. We are but yet another group of city folk who come and go and do little to get them out of their plight.
Hegel was right when he said that we learn from history that man can never learn anything from history.
All photos©Chulie de Silva