The real victims of war

S was 18 when he was made homeless by the civil war.

His story is a sad but common one on the far most northern tip of this island. The war has ended now but the end to the fighting is just the beginning for the innocent civilians caught up in the last 25 years of conflict.

I work with S, he is one of my field officers – and a darn good one at that!

His family have lived on the northern coast of Jaffna for generations, with their small family home surrounded by palm trees and fertile land on which they grew onions, chillis and potatoes. His father had a good job working as a security guard.

In October 1990 life changed dramatically for the family. The war had been underway for more than 5 years but with little direct effect on S and his neighbours. The Indian army had briefly evacuated his neighbourhood in 1983 but after 3 months they were allowed to return home and their house was fairly unscathed. Life continued as normal.

It was not until October of 1990 when leaflets were dropped by military helicopter and a message was put out on local radio stating that some specified areas were to be immediately evacuated by all civilians, that it became clear that the war had just arrived on their doorstep.

Some left immediately, others decided to wait it out and see if the claims that the fighting was edging closer were true.

S and his family waited.

At 4.30am a final warning to leave was issued and a final drop of orders by helicopter. At 6am the army arrived.

They had captured the area and from now on this was a civilian no-go area. Then the firing started as the enemy approached in attack. S, his mother, father, brother and sister fled for their lives – with no time to collect their belongings they left behind all their belongings. With just the clothes on their backs they took refuge at a relatives house several miles away.

Little did they realise for some of the family that would be the last time they would ever see their home.

For the next 20 years, S and his family were forced to rent a house to live in, all their belongings had been left behind and when their neighbourhood became a military zone his father had not even been allowed to enter for his job.

S managed to get a job as a security guard in the main town but because he was earning 6000 rupees a month (about $50) he was above the Government threshold for war compensation. Slowly slowly they bought new furniture and clothes. They literally had to start their lives from scratch.

It was 20 years after this October fleeing when I met S and he told me his story. We were about to be the first demining agency allowed into the area where S’s house was. S was coming with us. It would be the first time in 20 years he had seen his childhood home.

What he found was heartbreaking. The roof was gone, the walls peppered with bullet holes. He told me the house had probably been ransacked for anything of value soon after they left. His sister’s gold jewellery would have been one of the first things to go.

The well was damaged beyond repair and there a tree  growing through his bedroom floor.

I asked S if once the area was eventually handed back to civilians whether he would return to the family home and he said yes probably but first the Government needs to make sure there are schools, businesses and land for agriculture.

Those who have already returned claim to have a miserable existence with the current complete lack of infrastructure.

I asked what about his parents, sister and brother. He told me his siblings have lives elsewhere now and wouldn’t want to return.

And his parents? They died in 1997, seven years after they were forcibly removed from their home. They never got the chance to return.

The former bathroom…only the toilet (far right in picture) left in tact

Advertisements

1 Comment

  1. January 16, 2011 at 7:59 am

    […] January 16, 2011 at 7:58 am (Life & work in Sri Lanka) Tags: Jaffna, mango trees, Mine clearance, Sri Lanka Remember the story of S? […]


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s