I hear that IDPs need to be kept in camps for their own good. Because their homes are mined, because you can’t have so many people wandering around Vavuniya, etc. All well and good, but that’s still not legal grounds for detention. The people in the camps are not children and we cannot actually decide what’s best for them. Even from relief workers I sense that many look down on the IDPs and are OK with deciding things for them. But that’s not right. They are Sri Lankan and they have rights, including the right to movement. They can be detained under Emergency for a while, but at some point they have to be given a choice to stay or go. Because they are Sri Lankan too.
Even from relief workers I get various arguments for keeping people in camps indefinitely. I agree with many of them. Last night I met someone doing demining in Mannar and it’s damn serious. The UN requires a 99.6% clearance rate before resettlement and the only way to get that is through slow, manual clearance. That is, walking around with metal detectors and then scraping gingerly with a rake to find mines. You have to check up to 10 cm and there are a lot of false positives. There is also a lot of paperwork and approvals through the Army and Ministry of Nation Building. The whole process costs $1-2 million dollars per square kilometer and it’s going to take a long time. Much respect to the Sri Lanka Army, Indians and other parties doing the work. That’s real and we really can’t resettle people until.
However, that is still not legal grounds for detention of 300,000 people. You can take people into protective detention for insanity, but the people I’ve met in the camps are not insane. You can close the roads to mined areas, but people with families in Vavuniya or south should legally be able to stay with them.
Of course, the camps are completely outside of the law, possible only within Emergency Law, which is basically the lack thereof. People are being kept because many are actually LTTE and all are suspect. Beyond mine clearance, they are being registered and army camps being set up in the north to occupy and keep these areas under long term monitor and control. Which scares me, but I honestly do understand.
However, I simply cannot stand the argument that these human beings and citizens need to be kept in camps for their own good. I personally find it offensive and rude. I am in contact with a few people from the camps and I could never tell them something so patronizing to their face. I recently met a woman at an isolated hospital where they weren’t getting enough food (a rarity). She said if she could just go home she could grow enough vegetables to feed her child. I think that’s a perfectly reasonable desire.
Demining and re-establishing a functioning state in the North has to go on, but we also have to give Sri Lankan citizens at least a choice. I’m sure many would want to stay in the camps for now, but we need to give them a choice, as human beings, as adults and as Sri Lankans. There is ongoing screening, but once people are screened and ID’d they should be given the choice to go stay with relatives or friends if they can. If only because we are spending $2.5 million dollars a day and we could use a few less mouths to feed.
But I say again, that this is ‘for their own good’ is not a good enough argument and it’s insulting to the respectable adults living in the camps. They are Sri Lankans and they have rights. It is not for you or I to decide what is best for them. You can say it’s for our good in the south because we’re scared they’re LTTE. That is a legitimate argument. However, it is patronizing and insulting to say it’s for theirs and that we need to decide for them. They are Sri Lankan and no better or worse than you or me. At some point they need to be able to choose.