29 November, 2020

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Pathetic Plight Of Returning Mannar Muslim Refugees, Ignored By The Government, UNHCR And NGOs

By Latheef Farook –

Latheef Farook

Muslim settlements in Mannar dates back to more than one thousand years. In her book “The Muslims of Sri Lanka” eminent historian Dr Lorna Dewaraja explained that by 9th century Muslim settlements were established in the coastal areas including Mannar.

Muslims in and around Mannar area were descendants of early Arab traders who came for trade. They settled down and integrated well with the local people and continued their life in peace and harmony as traders, fishermen and farmer.

This situation continued uninterrupted until racism of the two major communities, Sinhalese and Tamils, began raising their ugly heads which later turned this paradise of a country into one of the worst killing fields in Asia.

Sandwiched between these two communities Muslims remained the most peaceful people in the island and the Mannar Muslims were no exception. They lived in   harmony with their Tamil neighbors. These centuries old traditional lifestyle was disturbed with the advent of Tamil militancy especially the LTTE, the so called freedom movement turned into one of the worst fascist killing machines in modern history.

From the very inception Muslims kept out of this conflict between the two communities. However they were dragged into the conflict to pay a heavy price. Mannar Muslims, around 7600 families with more than 36,000 people, were subjected to immense hardships and difficulties by the LTTE gangs. These atrocities climaxed on  30 October 1990 when the LTTE driven them out of their homes and lands together with   rest of the Muslim population in the north at very short notice. In the north Muslims were given two hours while  Mannar Muslims were driven out within two days. This was an unprecedented crime in modern history and even majority Sinhalese never resorted to such heartless ethnic cleansing of Tamils in the south despite merciless LTTE atrocities.

In their extensive report on the plight of evicted Mannar Muslims activist Anberiya and Mujib pointed out that they were stripped of their belongings, lands, and houses and permitted to take only Rupees 500 with them. They were not permitted to take any document including their birth certificates, title deeds to their lands and houses and other such valuable things. This has caused severe hardships to them in claiming their properties.

The plundering of the possessions from their homes followed soon after their enforced departure. The physical, economic, social and psychological suffering to which the entire Northern Muslim population was subjected was immeasurable.

Northern Muslims claim that the Government was aware of the imminent eviction but failed to take action against the LTTE despite the presence of the Army. The International Non-Governmental Organization and local Non-Governmental Organizations (NGO) were also silent observers of the eviction process. Following the expulsion majority of the Forcibly Evicted Persons (FEP) travelled to Puttalam where they were sympathetically received by the Muslims who provided them space for shelter, food and other basic needs during the initial days of displacement. According to well-known researcher M.I.M.Mohideen about 82 % of the Northern Muslims ended up as refugees in Puttalam district.  A small minority went to places such as Anuradhapura and Kurunegala. Then President R. Premadasa did not want the Northern Muslims to settle in Colombo District.

Their sufferings during the past two decades in the refugee camps in appalling conditions were immense. They survived on the paltry dry ration provided by the government.

With normalcy returning in the aftermath of the crushing defeat of LTTE  in May 2009   Mannar Muslims started returning to their neglected lands and abandoned homes in small numbers only to see their property being destroyed and the lands turned into thick jungles. There is hardly any basic facility to start with. Most of them needed assistance to clear their lands and rebuild their houses.

They needed government assistance to restart their lives. However in a shameful decision the UNHCR, a wing of United Nations which legalizes   wars against Muslim countries worldwide, declared them as old internally displaced people, IDPs, and started rehabilitating the Tamil war victims. Thus the Mannar Muslim’s hopes were dashed.

It is worthy to remind that British Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs   David Miliband and French Foreign Minister followed by UN Secretary General Ban Ki Moon rushed all the way from London, Paris and New York to see the conditions of Tamil IDPs in the aftermath of the LTTE defeat. However none of them went to see the plight of Muslim refugees in Puttalam. This speaks a lot for their indifference towards the plight of Muslim refugees not only in Puttalam but the millions of Muslims who were made refugees by their so called war on terrorism.

However Mannar Muslims started returning to their lands, but the Government was not supportive. There was no mention of the return of Northern Muslims, or for that matter ‘old’ IDPs at large, in the 180 day resettlement plan of the government. On 18th August 2009 Government published an advertisement calling for all Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs)– including Northern Muslims – wishing to return to register, but there is no information about the modalities of the resettlement process. To-date the State has not given any policy direction based on the replies to the advertisement.

Musali Muslims

According to a report prepared by Dr Hasbulla and his team “Muslims formed 68 percent of the population, before they were evicted, in the   Musali Divisional Secretariat of the Mannar District. There were 22 prominent Muslim settlements spread over an area of 486 square km. Musali was blessed with land and sea resources.  A major irrigation system, which was somewhat equal to the Giant Tank called Agathimurippu was the base for agricultural activities of the Muslim farmers of the area.  This irrigation system had 65 minor sub tanks supplying water through a 12 km stretch for major canals that sufficiently irrigated a total of 5800 acres of agricultural land.  Needless to say, a strong socio-economic and cultural infrastructure sprang from this economic base.  However the entire system of civilization in Musali is now in a state of ruin.  The region is now fully covered by secondary forest.  No traces of any permanent buildings are found in this area. Tanks and irrigation canals have been silted and damaged almost completely.  It is a shock to see the enormity of the devastation in Musali. They took a great deal of risk to return to their places of origin in Musali despite threat of wild animals and landmines (e.g., Chilawathurai).  Now almost all the Muslim villages have some returnees .These returnee have already begun to encounter a host of problems including shortage of food, inadequate shelter, lack of medical facilities, poor schooling for their children and bad infrastructure.

Mannar Island Muslims

In the Mannar Island, most of the former Muslim concentrations are limping back to normalcy   with Muslim refugees returning.  Only about 15 percent of the total displaced Muslims have returned to date places such as Puthukuddiyirrupu, Erukkalampiddy, Uppukulam, Tharapuram, Karisal, Talaimannar, Kataspathiri (Pesali) and Moor Street of Mannar Town.  Surprisingly, the cease-fire agreement did not encourage the Mannar Island Muslims to return home as they   do not have shelter for immediate occupations and most of the remaining houses are not in habitable condition while   others are occupied. Landmines in Talaimannar remain yet another problem. The returnees feel insecure and vulnerable because only a small number had returned   compared to the number of Muslims who lived there before they were displaced.  In the midst many of  Muslim residents of Mannar Town   sold their houses and other properties.  Returnees have also reported fears about possible   restrictions on religious and cultural practices as well.

Commerce and Industry Minister Rishad Bathiudeen explained in detail the present plight of Mannar Muslims in an interview with Ceylon Today.

He explained that United Nations Human Commission for Refugees, UNHCR, has termed those displaced prior to 2008, as ‘old IDPs’, resulting in them  losing  much of the humanitarian assistance currently provided for IDPs by various groups. Since the end of the conflict, hundreds of Northern Muslim refugees started returning to their lands. They face series of problems and there have been little recognition of the issues involved in the resettlement process.

The UNHCR is providing assistance only to ‘new IDPs’, whereas 90% of the Muslims do not fall into such a category. Even the NGOs   provide assistance to    ‘new IDPs’. Under this program none   of the Muslim families receive   livelihood support, shelter and sanitary facilities. No Muslim school was reconstructed. Villages still look like jungles.

He added that even the Lessons Learnt and Reconciliation Commission (LLRC) report suggested the need for   policy decisions to resettle the Muslims in the North, but the government has not taken any initiative.

He explained that it is three years since the present Resettlement Minister assumed duties, but shame to say, that he has not visited north, which need to be resettled. The minister should take up this resettlement issue seriously. After the war, no meeting on this issue was held in those areas. Why is the government not paying any attention to this? It is only when you visit the areas that you really understand the suffering of Muslims there.

Minister Bathiudeen also accused “the Bishop of Mannar  of blocking the resettlement of Muslims and even written to President Mahinda Rajapaksa against the Muslims. It’s quite shocking to hear that the Bishop has asked the Catholics not to sell lands to   Muslims during resettlement. I spoke about this in Parliament. When I was the Minister of Resettlement, I resettled all the Tamils in the North. By the time I was to resettle the Muslims, there was a change in the Cabinet of Ministers. After that, no one took any initiative to resettle them. Now I am taking the initiative but the Bishop is obstructing them. My only expectation is to resettle my people. They are all my relatives. I was also an IDP. It is with their votes that I became a Minister”.

He said seventy nine mosques in the North were demolished during the war. No one has taken any initiative to re-construct these mosques or houses which were demolished during the war.

“This issue can only be sorted out with the help of the government and the NGOs. I have decided, if these issues are not addressed accordingly, I will quit politics and not contest in the next general elections.  If President Mahinda Rajapakse takes pride in saying that he won the war, he also needs to resettle the people” said Minister Bathiudeen

The government is silent perhaps they know Muslim politicians who sold their souls for positions and perks and dropped the community   would not raise these issues.

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    Latheef:

    I Don’t get into this as you muslims and Catholics/Christians are all relatives and accept each others religion at least in your books.
    Further, one devoted catholic – Brian Senevirathne – mentioned in this very website that Joseph Rayappu had helped even the people in other religions. I cannot understand why he sent a letter to the president against muslim settlements.

    It is over 20 years since muslims moved to South. I am pretty sure they are well settled now. I can not understand why in a sudden muslim took very drastic actions such as throwing stones at the courts and damaging the house of the judge who took the decision.

    Latheef, you know personally how islamic countries treat other religions and how muslims treat other religions all over the world.

    What should the Buddhists think about you muslims and Catholics when they are in a struggle to make the area catholic dominant or muslim dominant ?

    As you say, Excpet for Hakeem who had agreements and hand shakes with pabakaran, Muslims kept quiet until muslims were chased out and muslims were killed. Even Hasbulla was pro-LTTE.

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      Quite right! there is no reason for Muslim IDPs to complain because the IDP Muslims in Puttalam from Jaffna got an enormous amount of sympathy and massive assistance at that time and for years after, and they are doing quite well. I personally and know that there is no reason for Muslims who did very well (compared to Tamils during the 30 years of war). Fara Haniffa has done a study to promote the Muslims cause with a Colombo NGO headed by one Sithy and now the Muslims are also trying to land grab like the Rajapassa regime, and playing the victim card.
      The Muslim politicians are greedy and power hungry and destroying the good relations between the Muslim and Tamil community for personal gain.
      This Latheef Farook is clearly that greedy goon Bathudin’s mouth piece who with Rauf Hakim are doing a merry dance around the Muslim community and pretending they are victimized by tamils when it is Rajapakse’s SImhala Buddhists who are trying to chase Muslims out of Dambulla. What a pathetic state ethnic relations in Sri Lanka are in today because of the politicians and their mouth pieces and the stupid media that produces their stories!

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    Time for the Muslims to stop playing “victim” and acting as if they have a monopoly on suffering. The fact is that they as a group have done very well out of the 30 year war except for a few who were forcibly displaced by the LTTE long ago.
    There is another socio- political reality that explains the goon Bathudin and the endless complaining of the Muslim politicians and their mouth pieces like this author. The Muslim, middle men, have used their in-between position among Sinhalas and Tamils strategically have benefited at the expense of the Tamils through out the war. This is a fact; not a statement of prejudice. For instance, drive along the eastern province and you will see that the most developed town today is Kathankudi – not Batti and not Trinco which were historically far more important Tamil dominated towns.
    The ‘success’ of the Muslim middle-man during the war has been enabled by their utterly unprincipled Politicians like Rauf Hakeem who have made alliances with dictatorships for personal and communal gain. Of course no one denies that the barbari LTTE hounded and ethnically cleansed the Muslims, but they have made much mileage out of this. The plight of the Tamils in Lanka today, a once educated and industrious people is aparent by the fact that they are ruled today by uneducated war lords supported by the Rajapakse goon-ocracy. Tamils are second class citizens in Lanka also due to the arrogant absentee landlord bahaviour of the TNA and this has made the Muslim political upstarts arrogant and abusive. This is the context in which a Muslim political goon intimidates a Tamil Magistrate with the tacit support of a racist Sinhala regime.

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    Most of the Tamils believe that Muslims are earning a comfortable livelihood by working along (or rather helping) the Sinhala Buddhist repressive regime. When thousands of Tamils were detained in the camps in Vanni, the face of the oppression to the Tamils was the rehabilitation minister Badiudin.(Is it true that his family are refugees from Kerala?) His way of rehabilitation included misappropriation of funds donated to the war victims by foreign governments. Muslims who are working with the military in Jaffna are said to be playing a very negative role as interpreters and they encouraged the Sinhala soldiers to beat innocent Tamils for no reason. Muslims who went to Jaffna as petty traders committed crimes like theft and rape with the help of security personnel. Above all, Tamils believe that Minister Badiudin, as the stooge of the government, is playing this game designed at upper levels just to divert attention of the ordinary Muslims from the attacks on mosques by Buddhist monks.

    True reconciliation among communities can only be achieved through mutual understanding and forgetting the differences of the past. If the Muslims want to go to live with the Tamils with a high-handed manner (with the help of the state) then they can’t expect a welcome smile from the faces of a wounded people.

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    There is an anti Muslim sentiment that is most noticeable here. Can’t blame people.

    Look at Farook’s article. Not a singke word in condemnation of that thug Bathuideen! How can this be fairly written? It is just Muslim propaganda.

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    Risarth Bathiuddin’s issue should not be mixed-up with the issue of the plight of the Northern Muslims. Risarth is among the many unscrupulous in the present Govt. exploiting and misleading the suffering Muslims for his political and personal ends. Unfortunately some Musllims follow him. He will not survive in his present position for long, will be exposed. Let us seriously look into the plight of the affected Muslims who are ignored by the Govt., the INGOs, the international community, etc.

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    A few comments on the auther’s points.
    1. The history or Muslims being decendants of Arab traders.
    Arab traders traded from far east to Turkey but there is no history of stating a Community in Ceylon.
    The true history of Muslims (majority) Tamil Muslims (Thulukans) brought as soldiers in the 17th 18th century to wage the war between Thimillar & Mukkuvar in the eastern province.
    2. Comparing the plight of the Tamils who were taken by the LTTE as human shield and that of the displace muslims of Mannar. This is beyond comprihension.
    Apart from these two points, I do have my sympathies for the plight of the displaced Muslims. I do agree with the auther that enough is not done to the displace Muslims.

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    Muslim politicians may be greedy unlike the Sinhalese, Tamil, catholic and Buddhist politicians who might have never been greedy as some of those who had commented here and also Farook may be a mouth piece of that goon, but;

    The simple question is shouldn’t the Muslim IDPs from Mannar return to their original homes and get their lands?

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    I agree with some of the more sensible responders above. The message should not be confused with the pathetically poor, inneffective messenger who consistently seems to have some sort of anti-western axe to grind. We should address this issue, as with all other weighty issues, in a far more intelligent and pragmatic fashion.

    The author completely destroys his credibility with repeated wild idiotic statements such as “UNHCR, a wing of United Nations which legalizes wars against Muslim countries worldwide.” If this is the type of rubbish that the readership of this site concurs with then God help us all!

    I simply cannot understand why the Colombo Telegraph continues to permit such sub-standard columnists and commentators to publish on their website. For goodness sake institute some minimum standards in the contributions of your commentators. Challenge them and have some basic quality control. This idiot has to go!

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    Hi. I am emailing from Edinburgh/Scotland.
    I conducted research on Muslim refugees in Puttalam while i was a lecturer at the University of Edinburgh. I have also visited the refugee camps in Gaza/Palestine, and am a bit familiar with the qur’an.

    I am writing my last will and testament, and wish to give assistance to SL Muslim refugees, along the lines of Islamic charity (zakat).I am not familiar with the situation following the return of the Muslims to the North, so do not know whats charities to consider, either in the north, East or Puttalam. THEY CAN BE MOSQUES, BUT WORK WITH REFUGEES.

    May I have contact details, websites (I cannot find) and advice.

    Best wishes
    Dr Darshini Anna De Zoysa
    anna.dezoysa@yahoo.co.uk

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