Coming Home

A year after the end of the civil war, Sri Lanka’s internally displaced Tamils attempt to rebuild

A bombed-out building in the previously LTTE-controlled Mannar district. {{name}}
A bombed-out building in the previously LTTE-controlled Mannar district. {{name}}
01 June, 2010

THE QUARTER CENTURY struggle for a Tamil homeland in Sri Lanka ended in May 2009, leaving 320,000 Sri Lankan Tamils labelled Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs). As of April this year, nearly 90,000 still lived in makeshift tents in Menik Farm, the largest of the government-run IDP camps, in the northern Vanni region.

A former Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) stronghold, Vanni is riddled with shelled buildings and heavily contaminated by landmines planted by both the Sri Lankan army and the LTTE. Roaming cattle belonging to displaced farmers are often victims of taking a wrong step in the minefields. Recent returnees from IDP camps pitch tents, or patch up their old home if it is still standing. Upon being released from the camps, they are given 25,000 Sri Lankan rupees, empty jerry cans, a few tin sheets for roofing, two months’ worth of food and other basic necessities.

President Mahinda Rajapaksa’s government is also resettling Sinhalese from the south in northern areas  formerly controlled by the LTTE. Kilinochchi, the former LTTE capital with a singular Tamil population has a new Buddhist temple, and for the first time in 25 years, Sinhalese tourists travel north to visit religious sites. Sinhalese merchants now sell their goods in Tamil markets of the north.  On a recent visit to Jaffna, President Rajapaksa referred to Sinhalese and Tamils as “children of one mother,” yet the question remains—whether or not the new migration of Sinhalese to Tamil areas is a matter of reconciliation or assimilation.