Giving the displaced a fair deal

Monday, 12 September 2011 00:00 -     - {{hitsCtrl.values.hits}}

Victims are not born but created. The recent decision by the President to wind down the functions of the Resettlement Ministry leaves questions over the fate of 2800 internally displaced people that were formally from Sampur.

People will remember that the Indian government offered to fund the Sampur power plans and since this was a long standing offer many of the people that were displaced in the fighting during the last stages of the war were not resettled to their homes.

To make matters worse those that do not hold legal deeds to the land that they had in Sampur will not be compensated. If they do not accept the offer of land made by the government then they will have little choice but to become homeless once the remaining camps close down in tandem with the ending of the Resettlement Ministry.

It is clear case of “do as the government says or else.” Over the weekend it was reported that people displaced from Sampur will not be considered as Internally Displaced People (IDPs) if they do not agree to the government’s relocation plan, Eastern Province Governor Mohan Wijewickrema has said.

The move would mean that some 900 families or 2,800 people living in three separate IDP camps will lose their benefits as displaced people and the camps would be eventually shut down. They would also not be considered for any other resettlement plans of the government or not be entitled for any compensation. Retired Rear Admiral Wijewickrema on Friday instructed officials to start informing the IDPs about the decision, but gave no deadline as to when the camps would be closed down.

He said the people would be offered relocation areas depending on the nature of their work.

The governor had said there was a misconception that since the Emergency Regulations were lifted the displaced people could return to their original lands in Sampur. He said the area has been gazetted under the Public Security Ordinance and the regulation remains effective.

All this costs 900 families their homes. The cost of development can be dear indeed, especially for the people that have no choice but to accept the government’s offer or risk being deprived of a new home as well as a livelihood. This is just one example of how marginalized communities are victimized into paying the price for development.

What the government needs to do at this point is to consult with the people on what their requirements are and take steps to ensure that they are given them. It is too late to ask these people if they want to give up their homes in the first place but a war and a second wave of development has deprived them of that permanently.

Homes are things that can be made too, which means that these 900 families have a chance to return to normal lives- provided they agree with the government of course. The government has to work in an equitable and sustainable manner and ensure that these people are relocated in a place that has the necessary infrastructure to live.

Providing them with livelihoods is another challenge. The greatest contest will be to prevent more families from having to endure the same fate.