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PUCL Bulletin, September 2006

Conditions in Sri Lankan Tamil refugee camps

TN & Pondicherry PUCL report, 18 June 2006

[ Also see, K G Kannabiran urgs TN to deal with Lanka refugees humanely ]

Following the emergence of war-like situation between Shri Lankan government and the LTTE, the arrival of Eelam Tamil refugees to India has increased. From January 12, 2006 to July 7, 2006, 4343 people belonging to 1363 families have landed in the coasts along Rameshwaram. According to the data provided by the Tamil Nadu government, as on 31.1.2005, 52,332 refugees belonging to 14,031 families live here in 103 camps. If newly arrived refugees are also taken into account, today not less than 58000 refugees are there in camps all over Tamil Nadu. It is to be noted that on an average 50 refugees keep coming per day.

In this situation, a 19 member team comprising people’s rights activists belonging to important rights organizations in Tamil Nadu visited Mandapam camp at Rameshwaram on July 8, after taking permission from the government, to ascertain the conditions in the refugee camps in Tamil Nadu and to ascertain whether adequate, basic necessities are there in these camps. Further, the team members divided themselves and visited the following camps all over Tamil Nadu:

Keelpathupattu, Periyasevalai (Villupuram district), Thiruvadhavur (Madurai district), Kullanchaavadi, Virudhaachalam (Cuddalore district) Pavalathaanoor, Kurukkappatti, Athikattanur (Salem district), Paramathi Velur (Namakkal district), Karur, Bhavanisagar Dam (Erode district)

Team members: 1. Sa Balamurugan, General Secretary, PUCL, Tamil Nadu; 2. P Rathnam, Senior Advocate, Lawyers Centre for Social Justice; 3. K Sukumaran, Federation for People’s Rights, Pondicherry; 4. A Marx, Professor, PUHR; 5. Se Kochadai, Professor, PUCL, Sivaganga; 6. Gana Kurinji, PUCL, Tamil Nadu; 7. Sankaralingam, Professor, PUCL, Madurai; 8. S Shanmuganathan, PUCL, Sivaganga; 9. A Subramaniam, PUCL, Sivaganga; 10. Damayanthi, Advocate, Citizens’ Protection Centre, CPCL; 11. Kesavan, Advocate, CPCL; 12. Bhagat Singh, Advocate, Lawyers’ Centre for Social Justice, Madurai; 13. Robert, Advocate, Madurai; 14. Megavannan, Writer, PUHR; 15. M Muthukkannu, INSAF, Pondicherry; 16. M Ilango, Periyar Dravidar Kazhagam, Pondicherry; 17, Veeramohan, Periyar Dravidar Kazhagam, Pondicherry; 18. Era Murugappan, Federation for People’s Rights; 19. Pavendan, Advocate, Tamil Nation Advocates’ Centre.

Conditions of Camps
All the refugees who land in Rameswaram area are brought to the Mandapam camp. This is said to be a transit camp. Yet, when we visited that camp, we saw that apart from 4343 people who had come since January, 756 people belonging to 230 families had been living there for more than 10 years. On July 8, 28 people had arrived. These people who were left ashore at Arichal Munai had paid Shri Lankan rupees 1000 and travelled to Mugandaraya Chatram 9 kms away. Intelligence agencies were interrogating them. Apart from Arichal Munai, refugees are also landing in Pamban. They also come here from several areas like Thalaimannar, Pesalai and Kilinochi etc. Most of those who had landed that day were Christians engaged in fishing. A family of a nurse working in a government hospital and a family of a driver were among them. Because of the war-like situation fishing had totally stopped. The youth and women have been endangered physically and their lives are under threat from the Shri Lankan Army. Those who had come had stayed for three days in Mannar forests and paid SLRs 7000 to 10,000 to the boatmen. They said that 10,000 more people were waiting in the Mannar forests to come here. They face the danger of being abducted if seen by Shri Lankan Navy or Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE).

After landing ashore in India, firstly check-up by the Indian Navy, and then Special Branch enquiry at Mugandaraya Chatram and then enquiry and registration by police at Danushkodi Police Station take place. And then they are brought to the Mandapam Camp in the evening. They are being offered food provided by voluntary agencies.

Those newly arrived are quarantined under police custody at the Mandapam Camp. This is a prison house. When we visited, 39 people were confined to the quarantine (nearly 20ft/20ft) for males. Only 2 toilets provided. Among them, Mohan Raj (27) from Kilinochi had been confined from June 17 and Murugaiyan (42) from Mannar from June 27. Food for them is being brought from outside. Food expenses per head per day are Rs 35. During enquiry, those suspected of having links with movements are being sent to special camps. The camp official says that the Indian government has ordered that the refugees should be confined to such quarantines for 30 days.

Problems are similar in other camps. Nowhere the accommodation provided to the refugees is worth living in. All of them were built at the end of 1980s. After that they were not repaired. Mostly, they are 10 ft / 10 ft rooms made of tiles or tar boards. In the camps in Pavalathanoor and Kurukkampatti (Salem dt), both types of houses are there. They are called ‘tile camp’ and ‘board camp’. Nobody can stay in board houses during the day time. Tile houses break and leak during rainy season.

These government-provided houses also have not been given to all. For example, in Pavalathanoor camp, there are 123 families (482 people). There are only 60 government-built houses here. Everywhere, the prevailing situation is that those living for more than 10 years are to build houses on their own if someone gets manned and set up a new household. Even for that, in some camps, the officials are to be bribed (In Athikattanoor camps, this allegation was levelled).

No camp has proper toilet facilities. Even in the few toilets that are provided water facilities are not there. Men and women have to go to the nearby forests to relieve themselves. Since such a practice is non-existent in Shri Lankan culture, women suffer the greatly.

When women go out for this, they face eve teasing problems in some places. People in nearby gardens also hit them with stones. In the forest area in the Mandapam camp, the problems of snakes are also there. Here, an old woman named Selva Nayaki, 64, doesn’t eat because she is not able to go out to defecate. There are no rooms to take bath. Even women are also to take bath at common wells. No camp has adequate drinking water facilities. In Vrithachalam camp, there is only one tap but there is no water tank for that. During mornings and evenings, water comes only for a short time. They travel for some miles to fetch water by cycle and fulfill their needs. Though there are wells in Rameshwaram camp, they have not been cleaned.

In all camps, electricity facility is provided only through single-bulb system. Only in some camps, separate meters have been allowed. For the single bulb, electricity is provided from 6 p.m. to 6 a.m. For the kitchens and verandahs, which they have constructed themselves, there is no electricity facility. In the Kullanchavadi camp, there is no electricity for one part. They are forced to draw current in an illegal manner. In Bhavanisagar camp, there are houses without electricity for 16 years, though single bulb facility has been provided to 30 houses built later, since power is drawn from the same source for all bulbs they are compelled to pay more.

Though registration cards are immediately provided to those in the camps, in many camps, there are many without registration. For example, in Keelpathupattu camp, 949 people belonging to 100 families live without refugee registration. They don’t get any facility provided by the government. The refugee registration for children born to those who marry outside the camps are cancelled (Example – Bhavanisagar camp).

Nowhere litter vans or garbage trucks come. Litter cleaning work does not take place. Those in the camps are forced to do it themselves.

Many camps have no medical facilities. In some camps, voluntary organizations provide medicines through trained people. In Mandapam camp, though there is a hospital with beds, the number of beds has not been increased for the last 15 years. Non-refugees in the nearby areas are also forced to use this hospital.

Crèche facilities inside camps are being conducted only by voluntary organizations. Providing nutritious food to children, including peanuts, has been stopped recently. Though there is no bar for students to join nearby schools and colleges, there is no fee concession. Some voluntary organizations help to some extent. But, there is no total help. The two percent reservation in higher education was revoked during the previous regime.

Though Usha Nandini, D/o Sakuntala Devi, in Keelpathu Pattu camp scored 807 marks in 12th standard exams, she was denied a B.Sc (Nursing) seat. Her father had been imprisoned in a special camp for 16 years and in 2005 he was released at the intervention of court and sent back to Shri Lanka.

The government relief money provided to those registered as refugees is not enough. The head of the family is given Rs 200/- pm, those above 12 years of age are provided Rs 144/, the first child below 12 years of age is provided Rs 90/- and the next Rs 45/-. Every month, adults are given 12 kg of rice and children 6 kg at a subsidized rate of 57 paise per kg. For each card, 5 litres of kerosene, sugar, etc., are provided at ration shop rates. They are to meet these and other requirements from the relief money provided to them.

Since this is not possible, men and women engage in all possible work like construction work, carpentry and painting. Since they are refugees, they have no job security at their places of work. Kannadasan (44), H/o Kamalendravati (43), hailing from Jaffna and living in Mandapam camp died due to electric shock while on work on June 6. No compensation was given. Camp authorities are also in the dark. In Paramathi camp, Ananda Kumar (36) and Kathirkamthambi (36) were hurt while on work when a tree fell and injured their backbones.

In some places, it has been complained that the ration rice given is of low quality and less in quantity.

Close relatives of many in Mandapam camp are scattered several other camps in TN. Hence, many people here demanded change of camps. When we visited there, the camp official said that transfer orders have been issued to 1600 people.

In Karur camp, since 1990, some 40 families have been set up in a single rice godown. These families live with curtains made out of gunny bags, sheets, sarees, etc. In the camps, nowhere there are street lamps and road facilities.

In some camps, there are only thatched sheds in the name of libraries. In crèches, there are no toys for the children.

The minimum clothes (lungis, banians and sarees) given once a year and vessels given once in two years are not adequate. In some, Tamil Eelam refugees live in camps without their basic needs being fulfilled and in conditions not worth living.

Some women in the camps have formed self-help groups. But, there is no government recognition for them. Even opening accounts in banks in the name of self-help groups has been denied.

Our recommendations:
1. All people in the camps should be registered and be issued cards. The children born in the camp should be accorded Indian citizenship if the parents desire so, or else, they should also be registered as refugees.

2. Those who are registered as refugees for more than 10 years and those who are married to Indian citizens should be accorded Indian citizenship if they desire so.

3. The relief amount given is not adequate to fulfill basic necessities. Rs 35 is spent for food alone on each of those quarantined. Same amount should be given to those in camps. Each adult should be given 30x35 = Rs 1050. There should be no distinction between head of the family and others. Those below 12 years of age should be given Rs 600 and there should be no distinction between first and the subsequent children.

4. It is to be appreciated that 12 kgs rice is given at the rate of 57 paise per kg. But, it should be of good quality and of right quantity. The government should make arrangements to monitor this.

5. Dresses should be issued twice in a year instead of once and vessels should be issued once in a year instead of once in two years.

6. The level of quantity of sugar and kerosene should be raised. Each family should be given 10 litres of kerosene every month. All essential commodities being issued to BPL families should be issued in similar quantity to Eelam refugees as well.

7. Poll promises of free television, gas, etc., of the present DMK-led dispensation at the state should be extended to Eelam refugees as well when they are actually implemented.

8. The houses not maintained for 16 years or so should be renovated on a war footing. Tar roofing should be replaced immediately and the construction of pucca houses should be started. Those who are living in godowns should be given individual houses.

9. Refugee camps should be attached to the nearby local administration so as to take care of water supply and drainage facilities. Wells should be desilted.

10. Adequate number of toilets should be constructed in camps without delay. Existing toilets should be repaired by fixing doors, extending proper water facilities and by cleaning septic tanks.

11. Laying roads and street-lights should be accorded priority and fulfilled.

12. Each house in the camps should get 24 hours electricity supply and each house should also have 3 light points and plug point facilities.

13. Medical facilities should be upgraded. Medical camps should be conducted every month in each refugee camp. Number of beds in the hospital in Mandapam camp should be increased and the facilities be expanded.

14. The government should assume the responsibility for total education expenses. Reservation in higher education and professional education should be proportionate to the total population of refugees as was in the previous DMK regime. Free text books and free bus passes should be issued. The government should direct the nearby standard educational institutions to admit and accord free education to the children in the camps.

15. Creches and libraries should at least have minimum facilities. The system of nutritious meals to children, that is suspended now, should be restored.

16. The government should immediately recognize the Self-Help Groups operating inside the camps and all assistance being offered to SHGs outside should also be extended to SHGs inside the camp. SHGs in the camps should be allowed to open account in their names in the banks.

17. Employment opportunity in government services should be given to the people in the camps. The procedure for permission to go and work outside the camps should be made easy. The government should monitor if they are given due wages at their workplaces and should also guarantee their security at workplaces. A proper mechanism should be instituted in each camp for this purpose.

18. The government should offer assistance to the girls of the age of marriage and should also extend medical facilities to the pregnant women.

19. The government should offer assistance and encourage them to engage in small business activities while the banks should offer loan facilities.

20. The government should take appropriate action to liberate the people in camps from the harassment of money-lenders.

21. Quarantines in camps should be abolished and the refugees should be treated with human dignity.

22. The hurdles for voluntary organizations to offer assistance to the people in the camps should be removed and their functioning inside should be made easier.

23. The refugees who land at Rameshwaram coast should be brought to the camps with proper vehicle facilities. Necessary enquiry procedures should be made easier and shorter. The government should assume the responsibility for their immediate medical assistance and food. Proper vehicle facilities should be made in the camps for this purpose.

24. The orders for transfer of camps, for justified reasons, should be issued immediately if the refugees in the camps desire so and the due warrants for transportation by bus or train should also be issued to reach the new destination.

25. We learn that the two special camps in Tamil Nadu are much worse than jails. The government should publish a white paper containing details of inmates of these two camps, the duration of their stay and whether anyone was forced and sent to Shri Lanka, etc. 26. The government should appoint an enquiry commission under a sitting judge of the High Court to probe the conditions prevailing in the camps.

27. It is highly deplorable that the Government of India has not yet signed the 1951 International Convention related to the Refugees that has been signed by more than 100 countries in the world. The Government of India should immediately sign 1951 International Convention on the Status of Refugees and also the subsequent 1967 Protocol on the Status of Refugees.

28. Though the Government of India has not signed the 1951 Convention on the Status of Refugees, it is to be appreciated that it is adopting the principle of non-repatriation of refugees. Still, confining them for several years in special camps without enquiry and trial should be stopped. The Government of India also should not treat refugees in different states belonging to different nationalities, race and languages differently. The Government of India should evolve a national policy with regard to refugees.

29. Philanthropic-minded individuals, voluntary organizations and corporate houses should come forward to adopt refugee camps and provide help.

30. It is necessary that the political parties in TN should pay attention to the conditions of Tamil refugees and raise demands for their rights and fight for them.

31. The people in the camps hesitated to express their grievances to us. They were afraid. In each camp, complaint boxes should be set up and they should be opened every month and the complaints should be read by Deputy Director level officials and action should be taken.

32. In each district, a group comprising legislators and members of Parliament, human rights enthusiasts and officials should be formed and these groups should monitor the refugee camp activities. They should visit the camps at least once in three months and ascertain the grievances.

33. UNHCR should send an investigation team to probe the conditions in the Shri Lankan refugee camps in India and should accord UN refugee status to Shri Lankan refugees. The Government of India should take up this specific issue with the UNHCR.

1. Officials fully cooperated in surveying the Mandapam camp. Deputy Director Mr V Jayakumar helped giving full details. But, in Paramathi Velore at Namakkal district, despite permission from Tahsildar, Revenue Inspector Mr Dhanasekaran refused permission.

2. This is only an interim report. A detailed full report with photographic evidence will soon be released. – Sa Balamurugan, General Secretary, TN & Pondicherry PUCL and other Members of the team, 18.06.2006.

People's Union for Civil Liberties, 81 Sahayoga Apartmrnts, Mayur Vihar I, Delhi 110091, India. Phone (91) 11 2275 0014