Mother and child at Menik Farm, 2009.
I’ve been to Menik Farm a few times, when it housed 300,000 people and when it had almost none. Now it has actually none. Menik Farm is officially closed today. What is Menik Farm? It’s where many refugees lived after the war.
Vavuniya is like the Pettah of the north. From there you head west and, down what was a pitted and horrific road, you’d get to Menik Farm. I’m pretty sure it was nothing before the war, but after the bridge heading in was a serious checkpoint. Everybody had papers from some Ministry and MinDef had to sign off on everything, at that point. The biggest checkpoint was in Medavachchiya, like 60k back, where they checked every pill bottle and box (we were transporting medical supplies). Once you got to Menik Farm they were checking, but mainly the headcount. They checked the number coming in, and the number coming out. The people inside were displaced, but they were also detained.
Met a family who I kept in touch with there. They had survived by hiding in a ditch, peeing into bottles, not really coming out. The wife, who was serving as a translator, said they’d been visiting relatives when they got caught up in the LTTE sweep, when Prabhakaran herded innocent people in front of him as a human shield. A lot of people said they were visiting relatives, but anyone in there would have had some contact with the LTTE.
On my first visit the main problem was sanitation for a sudden city of 300,000, and stopping the spread of diseases like diarrhea and Hepatitis.
Unloaded meds at the coordinating office and talked to the doctor who was understandably rushed. There’s a lot of stats around, they asked if I could help implement some IT solution, think some Excel sheets would do. Basically seems like cases of communicable diseases like Hepatitis A and Chicken Pox are kinda stabilizing but diarrhea is rising. The main problems are water and sanitation. He says if those improve then things will pretty much stabilize. It is honestly an insane scale of settlement in a short amount of time. (Menik Farm, June 2009)
People in the diaspora said that Menik Farm was a concentration camp with replete horror stories. It wasn’t. The main issue, at the beginning, was that people were held against their will. You could see there was tight security at the beginning. People were not supposed to leave. At the beginning, perhaps necessary, I mean, I was in Medavachiya as the war and it wasn’t like the war and threat ended overnight. In time, however, it was clear that not letting people stay with relatives or leave was both inefficient and unjust. I wrote about that, that the should be able to let go, which kinda messed up my NGO-type access for a while. I didn’t go back till much later.
When I went back almost a year after, we just drove through Menik Farm. As tourists essentially. They vast majority of people had left. There was no security at all. We just drove through, listening to music, helping a tortoise cross the road. And now it’s completely closed. Which is good, though the Daily Mirror is wrong to say No More Displaced People In SL. I mean, these people aren’t going back to Colpetty, they’re going back to largely destroyed if demined villages with much land still occupied by the Army. There are people who are still bouncing around, and nothing will replace the family members that everyone in there has lost. TamilNet also jumps the gun by saying that they somehow shouldn’t have closed the camp. I mean, that doesn’t make sense either. If you want a more balanced view check out IRIN, the UN media thing. Or I guess you can just go there now.
What was once the second biggest city in Sri Lanka is now just a largely empty plot of land between Vavuniya and Mannar. As it should be. It’s really hot and dusty there.