Friday, October 2, 2009

Controversies behind Sri Lanka’s IDPs

Shenali Waduge
It is amazing how people who do not know any of these “IDPs”, people who have not even come to Sri Lanka, people who have so far not even sent a cent or contributed any aid are demanding that Sri Lanka’s IDPs be allowed “freedom of movement”.. As of May there were 288,938 IDPs but only 2000 came forward to take their relatives. For those who have not even seen these camps, it is baffling how they can so authoritatively describe these camps as “concentration camps” & demand freedom of movement. Making these accusations are the very nations who are directly responsible for displacing millions of innocents & have yet to resettle these people to their “homes”. Let the IDPs decide whether they wish to rally behind these “freedom of movement” slogans that the international community offers or wait till demining work is complete & take Rs.25,000, free seed paddy & free food for 6 months that the GOSL is allocating while being presently fed 3 meals a day. Given the intensity of accusations against the Sri Lankan Government is it just possible to think that the Eelaam struggle could have been just a façade to use Sri Lanka as base to train jihad type fighters the LTTE was notorious for.
Let us take the accusations one by one. Given the argument that the Government is placing these people in concentration camps, perhaps similar to how the Jews were treated by the Germans…then shouldn’t the 288, 938 be down by half perhaps or no one left at all because it makes no sense to have a Government maintain “concentration camps” not “killing” any of these IDPS but look after their welfare by spending 9m SLR a day as well as allocate Government servants, private contractors, private teachers, social service organizations, the armed personnel utilizing their time & spending colossal amounts every day for the “welfare” of these people. But, of the 26m global IDPs what nation can boast of resettling with a means of living almost 50,000 IDPs within just 3 months of annihilating a terror outfit that prevailed for almost 3 decades?.
Why would a Government arrange for artificial limbs to be customized to fit these people, why would teachers be tasked to do additional teaching to prepare these children for their first O/L & A/L examination, why would the Government order braille machines for the blind, provide vocational training, attempt to rehabilitate former child soldiers & reintroduce them to society & if the common masses were also thinking with the same mentality as the Government why should they collect in masses clothing, food, medicines, toys etc to be sent to their people? All those who are bringing in these far-fetched notions about “concentration camps” should not blindly accept what is being told but think a little & seriously look at things from a proper perspective.
Media agencies themselves while desiring to be in the thick of things should really evaluate what they are saying & objectively view the manner they attempt to humiliate Government officials invited for tv interviews while visibly exonerating the LTTE. International media agencies cannot deny the role they played to almost eulogize Prabakaran & his movement showcasing it as an entity fighting for denied rights. How many of these “journalists” actually cared to see things in its proper perspective. How can there be denial of rights when Tamils enjoy equal status as the Sinhalese in the public & private sector? All these Journalists had to ask was some simple questions to which anyone would have given immediate answers. Do Tamils own property in Colombo – Yes, Have Tamils served in key Government posts such as Inspector General of Police, Governor Central Bank, Foreign Minister, Cabinet Portfolios, Association Presidents, Judges – Yes. Are Tamils denied coming to Colombo & outskirts & take up residence, rent homes, start a business or living – No. Can Tamil children study in International Schools, Private Schools, Semi-Govt schools & Government Schools – Yes. Do education systems deny Tamil students any right – No, Tamil children have even topped their batches in Medicine & Engineering. Where is the problem then? Yet, could Sinhalese travel these past few decades anywhere near the North or East – No. Can Sinhalese purchase property in Jaffna – NO….Ask a few more questions & it will emerge that realistically it has been the Sinhalese who are more marginalized than the minorities.
A third world nation, a country that had the world’s worst terror outfit terrorize the country & even its neighbor is also the only country that has been able to eliminate terrorism vis a vis destroying the 3 main tiers of its leadership. The US 9 years after 9/11 cannot even locate Osama bin Laden. We must also add that Sri Lanka is also not without elements of corruption & from many arrests being made it has been evident that politicos, public servants, members of the armed forces including very senior officers, foreign governments, NGOs & UN officials & even some members of the public have also been conniving with these terrorists which essentially prolonged & allowed this menace to drag all these years. Therefore the actual annihilation of the LTTE is indeed meritorious given the circumstances that prevailed.
On the topic of hard core cadres – the Government has announced that they have completed profiling of 10,000 hard core cadres & are looking at trying them in court for their role in terror activity. We cannot rule out that foreign countries must also be eyeing these former combatants as they are all well aware of how lethal their training is & afterall LTTE introduced the suicide bomber. It is amidst this argument that the extraordinary concern for Sri Lanka’s IDPs by key nations rings alarm bells as to ponder whether Sri Lanka was actually being used as a ground to train jihad type fighters while keeping alive the LTTE struggle through on & off bomb attacks? Sri Lanka would have beena preferred destination even for trainers who are likely to prefer the scenic beauty the country has over the desert terrains in countries where currently training takes place. This possibility requires further examination since it is baffling why powerful nations including India which all have IDPs & refugees in their own nations are so distraught over relatively few numbers in Sri Lanka. The pressures by these countries has to be something more than embarrassing the present Government because the Government has been extremely successful in steering negative international pressures to further gain popularity within Sri Lanka even amongst moderate Opposition members.
Therefore rehabilitating & sending former cadres overseas for employment needs to be further scrutinized – especially when former LTTE sympathizers are now appearing as peace doves & offering to sponsor their rehabilitation. All those who cry foul from foreign countries must remember that it is Sri Lanka that had to face almost 30 years of terror – not just bombs going off but suicide bombings, assassinations & none of these people can imagine how elated the people are that in over a year no bomb has gone off. Yes, there are security blockades & yes at one time in the past the security personnel manning these posts did not have the proper training to question the public but today despite the blocks the security personnel are extremely courteous. Even in security posts in foreign countries one would not find these personnel indulging in light conversation except do what they are tasked to do. Anyone traveling to the US would feel more uncomfortable by the looks given by the border security who are given all rights to suddenly whisk anyone off for questioning if they have any doubts about them – ask Shah Rukh Khan who will give first account of his experience. In Japan everyone is fingerprinted – perhaps the exercise in Japan doesn’t violate anyone’s human rights but it would interesting to know how people are likely to react if the GOSL was ever to announce fingerprinting.
At present there are over 200,000 IDPs located in several zones. Based on the demands of people overseas if these IDPs are given “freedom of movement’ & asked to go wherever they liked, where are they to go? The areas of the North are no British midlands, these people are no backpackers or wondering gypsies! – these areas are heavily mined, most areas are jungle. Have all those people abroad just championing freedom of movement thought about how these people are to get to where they came from, how they are to start a living or build a house – the glorious words “freedom of movement” will not house them, feed them or sustain their livelihood. those who are shouting for their “freedom” must remember that these people did not come from one location only – amongst each other they are equally strangers & given that areas are highly mined what would come of their fate? Would the international community & those attempting to resurrect the LTTE be accountable for limbs & lives lost? Would they not be just a statistics to again humiliate the Government? People need to be mindful that there are dogs, military personnel, foreign NGOs & now the latest purchases of demining equipment all spending hours in the scorching sun just to demine these areas to allow these people to resettle & not just to resettle but to start a proper livelihood.
Perhaps they are not aware that the Government is providing each family Rs.25,000 along with free food for 6 months & free seed paddy to start their livelihood. It is also poignant to reiterate a bulk of these people were living practically under trees & did not have any “home” whilst being held as “human shields” by the LTTE. For those so concerned about IDP it would have been welcome to hear the same outbursts during the times the people were held forcefully by the LTTE including the representatives of the Catholic Church. The fanfare over this “returning home” may be more of a nightmare than being glad that 3 meals are provided including afternoon tea & biscuits. Furthermore, only 6003 of 19,226 elders in welfare camps actually went to live amongst relatives – most others are now in elder’s home. Have those who cry “let them go” thought of whether they have a home to go to – whether it is ruined, destroyed & how are they to put up their “home” if they just walk out of the line of protocol where the Government is placing systems to provide for each of the displaced. A Government cannot just give handouts when a person or family suddenly desires to leave. There are accounting measures to be considered & therefore no Government or even private sector will allow emotions to get the better of their systems. If the Government is apprehensive about who is giving aid or coming to help it has every right to be – how did the LTTE build 7 airstrips, 3 of them big enough to land cargo planes, how did the LTTE build air-conditioned bunkers & sophisticated training units in the thick jungles, how did the LTTE manage to build 8ft high bunds & garrisons to delay army advances? All these were done with assistance given by some people who have put to shame the United Nations, NGOs & INGOs.
For most of us the figures that the UN & other agencies were projecting prior to the complete annihilation of the LTTE was beyond belief simply because the numbers when considering the total population of the Tamil people considering that 800,000 are resident overseas & half of the total actually live outside of the North & East. It could possibly be that some of these “Tamil” people are from Tamil Nadu in which case the Government is unlikely to adopt measures such as DNA in order not to embarrass the Indian Government further. But, the fact that some members even inside the camps could be Indian cannot be ruled out. It is these reasons that might be prompting the Indian Government to regularly send its envoy & keep close tabs on them. If the bulk of the IDPs are Indian we have no reason to be surprised that no relative is applying to take them from the camps! Therefore, it is pertinent to explore the actual numbers that Prabakaran was herding from Kilinochchi to Mullaitivu & to ascertain if they are illicit migrants or mercenaries from India? What is certain though is that population figures just do not add up to meet the 12% Tamil population in Sri Lanka.
A look at the Internal Displacement Monitoring Center which declares that there are 26m IDPs globally is not without errors. Immediately going to Sri Lanka statistics it declares upon UN estimates Sri Lanka’s IDP figure to be 495,000 totally ignoring the SL Government statistics that was given (we all know that this figure was purposely inflated as a means to delay the inevitable collapse & demise of the Tiger outfit & its leadership) Nevertheless since this is the official data that we must go by let us take examples of some realistic situations.
In Cyprus 200,000 Greek and Turkish Cypriots were displaced in 1974 – UN figures of 2003 kept these IDPs figures at 210,000 – not much resettlement has happened.
The UN-Allied attack on Yugoslavia has left 226,079 displaced (Estimate includes some 207,000 registered IDPs in Serbia plus an estimated 20,000 unregistered Roma displaced in Serbia and 20,000 IDPs in Kosovo.) US, UK or EU are not too concerned about these people who are displaced directly as a result of them. Over 230,000 Afghans are still homeless since 2002 despite an increasing number of foreign forces in Afghanistan. In Iraq which US invaded not once but twice they could not even find weapons of mass destruction which was given as the reason to invade Iraq but has left 4.2m as refugees & IDPs.

What many of these critics on Sri Lanka have not factored in is that Sri Lanka’s IDPs have been living worst then their IDP status more than the 3 months they have been fed, clothed & treated as human beings with a third-world Government spending 9m per month on their welfare. All those who cared not to bring to world attention the plight of these people while they were held forcibly by the LTTE may like to respond to how the LTTE looked after these people.

We know the EU was fooled into tagging with US’s move to divide Yugoslavia which has ultimately only resulted in a free flow of jihadist militants in Europe & Osama now sending death threats to EU nations. It was a perfect ploy to undermine surge in the Euro against the dollar. Similarly, could India have also being fooled into tagging along the anti-Sri Lanka program failing to see that powerful nations may have been siding with the LTTE purely to use Sri Lanka as a base to carry out their agendas (with or without Eelaam) Prabakaran & his trusted lieutenants had no care for Eelaam or the Tamil people – they were merely interested in money thus the massive wealth they have acquired through international rackets to which all these powerful nations are aware of & could stop if they wanted to. This notion does make sense in understanding & connecting the weird combination of people that formed an alliance to ensure that the LTTE prevailed in Sri Lanka.

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