Muslim IDPs have largely been forgotten. When the LTTE tried to ethnically cleanse the north they marched Muslims out of their homes with little notice.This was twenty years ago, and they still have not been able to resettle in their homes. Tamil IDPs of the most recent phase of war have gotten the most attention, but the older Muslim IDPs have not. Another forgotten group is those displaced and now in India. I think the right position is that everyone should get to go home, and that this should be a top priority of the next President.
To quote the history (from Humanity Ashore):
The Muslims of Jaffna were forced to leave by the LTTE in October 1990. LTTE made announcements over loud speakers that, Muslim should assemble at Jinnah Grounds of Osmania College by twelve noon on October 30th 1990. And the LTTE went from house to house, and made sure they attend the meeting. The message was conveyed to the Muslims of Jaffna by the then LTTE commander of Jaffna Anjaneyar (who was also known as Ilamparithy), all the Muslims in Jaffna peninsula have to leave in two hours. This was an order by the high command, and neither more explanation was given nor questions were answered. Any Muslim who fails to leave Jaffna will be punished, said clearly by the LTTE.
Muslims lived in Pombaiveli, Sonakaththeru, Beach road and Chavakachcheri. The Muslims who were living happily in Jaffna have started to pack and leave. But they were stopped and checked by the male and female cadres of the LTTE during their journey. The Muslims were allowed to carry only Rs. 150/=. Other items were confiscated by the LTTE. Muslims from Jaffna district were given only two hours to leave the peninsula, whereas the Muslims from Mannar, Mullaithivu and Kilinochchi districts were given few days to leave. They left their houses and moved to Puttlam by boats, buses, tractors, and lorries. As a result there were approximately 85,000 Muslims who were expelled by the LTTE from Northern districts.
I reproduce here an appeal from various civil society groups (also available in Word format, via Google Docs). They basically want Muslim IDPs to be able to return this year, and to get appropriate support. I agree.
As Sri Lankan Muslims civil society groups we are deeply concerned by the lack of urgency and recognition of the Northern Muslims’ right to return. Despite the end of the war in May 2009 and on-going efforts to resettle Internally Displaced Persons, the expelled Northern Muslim community is still waiting for the announcement of a program that will facilitate their dignified return to their places of origin, free of further trauma. 2010 will mark the twentieth anniversary of the expulsion of the entire population of Muslims from the Northern Province by the LTTE. It will hopefully also be the year of return for the Northern Muslims to rebuild their lives, livelihoods and a shared future with all communities of the North.
With the end of the war there was an expectation within the displaced Northern Muslim community, currently numbering over 100,000, that they would be allowed to and assisted to return. When resettlement did commence in the North it focused on the recently displaced Tamil IDPs. While recognizing and supporting the urgency for the resettlement of Wanni Tamil IDPs, Northern Muslims are worried that there is hardly any acknowledgment of their existence and needs and they are left out of any planning of the entire resettlement process.
The Muslim IDPs have had to use their own resources and to negotiate at an individual level to secure permission to return. While there are many challenges to resettlement including de-mining, re-building infrastructure and providing basic assistance, the delay in resettling the Northern Muslims has raised fears that they will be excluded from the current resettlement process; which could result in their losing assistance both at a family and community level, increased conflicts between those currently settled and Northern Muslims trying to claim their original properties. Reintegrating the returning Northern Muslims with the Tamil community should be the priority; unfortunately so far little progress has been made.
In order to ensure a peace that will benefit and create co-existence among all communities, we the undersigned organizations demand of the next President:
- Immediately implement parallel resettlement of Northern Muslim IDPs with the resettlement of the Vanni IDPs.
- Recognise and ensure the right of return of all Northern Muslims, be they those expelled or the children who were born in displacement.
- Give the choice to all Northern Muslims whether to return or opt for local integration in areas where they are currently living.
- Opening of Mannar- Puttalam road to facilitate Muslim IDP return.
- Equally prioritize Muslim villages and expedite the landmine clearance.
- Ensure equity in terms of returnee assistance, rehabilitation and development resources to areas which were inhabited prior to the conflict.
- Ensure community consultation and participation in the rehabilitation and development of the war affected areas.
- Create mechanisms and processes to address potential land problems and disputes, including allocation of public (crown) land, demarcation of village boundaries and sharing and allocation of public resources through inter-community mediating boards.
- Expelled Muslims who have lost their land and public resources due to resettlements that happened after their eviction in 1990 need to be duly compensated.
- Give access to local organizations from the affected districts, and national and international organizations, to areas where resettlement is taking place so that they could play a more proactive role in rebuilding communities. Current restriction on allowing only a handful of relief and rehabilitation agencies should be eased to bring in more help.
- In the event of villages and lands of the Muslims being declared High Security Zones, alternative land and infrastructure should be rebuilt and handed over to the people.
- Devise means of settling land disputes arising from land transactions and land allocations done by LTTE and government in the absence of Northern Muslims in their areas of residence, giving full recognition to the land rights of the Northern Muslims.
- Appoint a truth commission that includes civil society group with a cross section of all communities to investigate the forcible eviction of the Northern Muslims.
- Amend the Prescription Ordinance in the North and East, where large scale displacement had taken place and the inability of the displaced to reclaim the land during the last nineteen years.
Currently Muslims are returning to the north without much assistance from anyone, simply in the hope that they can restart their lives from scratch and co-exist once again with their Tamil brothers and sisters. On behalf of the Northern Muslims the undersigned community based organisations and members of the Muslims community request all the Presidential candidates and others who are involved in northern resettlement, rebuilding and development to fulfil the above requirement to reintegrate the expelled Muslims as part of the northern communities after twenty years.