By Mohamed Shareef Asees –
Resettlement of Northern Muslim IDPs: A Case Study of Marichukkati Village in Mannar District of Sri Lanka
The purpose of this article is to explore the resettlement of Northern Muslim IDPs and find out the hindrance which delays the process of Marichukati village in Mannar district. It has been 25 years since the Muslims were forcibly evicted from their home land by the LTTE and have been living in the Puttalam district in many IDP camps in vulnerable conditions. The end of conflict in May 2009, brought a new hope for the resettlement of Muslim IDPs. However both the Sri Lankan government and the international community prioritized the Tamil IDPs for resettlement and sidelined the Muslim IDPs from it. This has led some Muslim IDPs to go back to their places of origin voluntarily. The former Resettlement Minister, Rishad Bathiudeen was able to negotiate with some Islamic organizations and they agreed to provide some houses for this marginalized Muslim IDPs. In 2012, Muslims in Marichukatti began their resettlement process with the support of Qatar foundation. Since then some Buddhist hardliners and media groups began to accuse their resettlement and claimed it was an illegal resettlement and violation of wilpattu national forest, though the Muslims hold their deeds (legal documents) to prove the ownership and to live in their own place. This research will employ the pluralism theory and utilize both primary and secondary data in order to explore the resettlement of Muslim IDPs. One of the key findings of this research is that although there is a claim about violation of Wilpattu, Muslims in Marichukati are legally entitled to live in their own habitants.
The prolonged armed conflict which started in 1983 between the Sri Lankan government and the LTTE killed around 90,000 people and left over 1 million IDPs from three ethnic groups: Tamils 82%, Muslims 14%, and Sinhalese 4% (UNHCR Report. 2009). In 1990, the LTTE forcibly evicted around 15,000 Muslim families from the Northern Province in five districts: Jaffna 3,475, Mannar 8,200, Vavuniya 1,800, Mulaitheevu 1,000 and Kilinochi 525 (Ibid. 2009). The displaced Muslims moved mainly to the Puttalam district and have been living there as IDPs since then. The IDP camp life is very pathetic and they have been facing various problems in their daily lives. The life in IDP camps have de-moralized men, women, children and elderly people and affected them physically, psychologically, socially, economically and educationally.
The end of conflict in May 2009, brought a new hopes for the resettlement of Muslim IDPs, but the Sri Lankan government and the international community prioritized the Tamil IDPs and side lined the Muslim IDPs from the resettlement process. This has led some Muslim IDPs voluntarily to go back to their homes. The former Resettlement Minister Rishad Bathiudeen was able to negotiate with some Islamic organizations and they agreed to provide some houses for this marginalized Muslim IDPs. In 2012 Muslims in Marichukatti began their resettlement process with the support of Qatar foundation (Al-JASSIM). Since then some Buddhist hardliners and media groups began to accuse their resettlement and claimed it was an illegal resettlement and violation of willpattu forest, though the Muslims hold their deeds to live in their own place.
Theoretical Background and Research Methodology
This research will employ the pluralism theory in order to explore the needs of resettlement of Northern Muslim IDPs. Pluralism is a situation in which people of different social classes, religions, ethnics, races and languages live and continue to have and practice their different traditions and interests within a country (Annan K. 1998). Pluralism means “equal rights for everyone”. One community should enjoy the equal rights (Human rights and fundamental rights) that enjoyed by other community within a country. In the case of IDPs in Sri Lanka both the Sinhalese and Tamil IDPs were resettled or relocated by the Sri Lankan government, but no proper plan or attempt made by the government or international organizations to resettle the protracted Muslim IDPs in their homes. It seems that there are no equal rights or pluralism in terms of resettlement among various ethnic IDPs in Sri Lanka. This research will be a mix of qualitative and quantitative approach. In fact, the author has visited to the Marichukati village and conducted few interviews with respective leaders and beneficiaries of housing scheme. Both primary and secondary data utilized to strengthen this research.
Resettlement of Northern Muslim IDPs
The Resettlement of Northern Muslims IDPs still remains unresolved. Many factors were attributed for the present status. There are four main challenges have hindered their resettlement. First, there was no substantial plan from the Sri Lankan government for their resettlement. Second, a significant part of the land that belonged to Northern Muslims were conquered by the LTTE and given to Tamil people during the conflict. Third, the housing assistance was inefficient. In fact, the Indian government allocated 50,000 houses for the IDPs but it was not clear how many houses were allocated for the Muslim IDPs. Finally, there was a lack of initiatives targeting the Muslim IDPs as beneficiaries of the post-conflict resettlement projects managed by the Sri Lankan government or the international organizations. In fact, the Sri Lankan government and International organizations focused primarily on the resettlement of Tamil IDPs. From the Sri Lankan government‘s point of view, the resettlement of Tamil IDPs were more important than that of the Muslim minority as it can reduce the tension between the Sinhala and Tamil ethnic groups which were central to the war. Parallel to this, international organizations and donors have pressured the Sri Lankan government to resettle the Tamil IDPs. The above factors delayed the process of resettlement of Muslim IDPs in the Northern Province.
Resettlement in Marichukati
Marichukati is one of the ancient villages which is located in the Musali divison of Mannar district. In 1989, there were around 200 Muslim families lived in this village. In 1990, they were forcibly evicted by the LTTE and moved to Puttalam and lived there in the past 25 years. In 2012, some Muslim IDPs, 73 families return to their original place and began to build houses and engaged agricultural activities with the support of some Muslim organizations (Qatar foundation). Resettlement of Muslim IDPs in Marichukati village viewed by the media (Hiru TV) as an illegal settlement and violation of Wilpattu national forest. However, the former Resettlement Minister, Rishad Bathiudeen continuously saying that there is no illegal settlement or any single violation of Wilpattu national forest. Even he openly stated that if anyone can proof it as an illegal settlement or violation of Wilpattu he is ready to step from his Ministrial post that he holds in the present government. However there is no such attempt made either from media or any respective organizations up to now.
Wilpattu is one of the national parks in Sri Lanka. It is located in the North Western and North Central provinces of Sri Lanka. It has borders with both Puttalam and Anuradhapura districts. According to wild life authority, the village Marichukatti which is located next to Willpatu forest is belonged to the forest under the gazette in 2012. But residents and former Resettlement Minister Rishad Bathiudeen claimed that while we are having our land deeds (legal documents) how could the former environmental ministry encroach this land into Wilpattu national forest. In fact, it is a matter of legal issue, but both media and other relevant authorities are trying to politicize and create tension between the wild life authority and villagers in Marichukatti.
It seems that the Muslim IDPs who went back to their previous home in Marichukatti faces lot of issues regarding the resettlement and livelihood. Resettlement is very challenging even within their own land which was belonged to their forefathers over 100 years. There are some remaining (old mosque, broken houses, etc) which shows that earlier there was a Muslim settlement. Moreover, almost all residents in Marichukatti village hold their legal deeds which show they are legally entitled to live in their home. In fact, the accusation from media and disturbance from wild life authority is a violation of fundamental rights of this Marichukatti people. One Muslim IDP pointed out that when he went back to his home in Marichukatti after 25 years, it was fully occupied by the Navy and they are not giving his home back to live there. Further he pointed out the Navy forces has built a small Buddhist temple for their religious purposes inside his land, but in the future they may claim that there were some Sinhala settlements in the past based on this recently built temple. Likewise, there are many other issues have to be discussed and short it in order to continue the peaceful resettlements.
The overall conclusion of this research is that the resettlement of Muslim IDPs in Marichukatti was manipulated and miss guided by the media and some Buddhist hardliners. The Sri Lankan government which is responsible (sole responsible) to protect its own people also overlooked and sidelined the Muslim IDPs on this issue. The tension and rhetoric is growing between the wild life authority and former Resettlement Minister Rishad Bathiudeen (on behalf of villagers in Marichukatti). Moreover, there is a party politics also on this issue, up to now there is no statement or any action taken by any Muslim political parties except All Ceylon Makkal Congress (ACMC) and its leader Hon. Minister Rishad Bathiudeen.
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