Much has been written about the abysmal conditions of the Tamil refugee camps in Sri Lanka. Reports say people there are suffering due to shortage of water, and lack of proper sanitary facilities. Media has also reported outbreak of chickenpox and hepatitis in the military run camps, where an estimated 3 lakh Tamils are housed in overcrowded tents. Several international agencies have voiced their concern for the suffering masses, but no relief appears to be in sight.
Their appalling condition moved even Sri Lanka’s Chief Justice Sarath N Silva, who made the following comments after visiting one of the camps. (That the honourable judge is a Sinhalese adds more credibility to his remarks.) Here goes his assessment of the camps:
“I visited 'relief villages' where Vanni IDP families are sheltered. I cannot explain their suffering and grief in words. It is an utter lie if we continue to say that there is only one race and no majority or minority in the country. I visited Cheddiku'lam camps where IDP families live. I cannot explain the pathetic situation they undergo. I was unable to console them. They survive amid immense suffering and distress.
We construct massive building on our side. But these IDPs live in tent-shelters. Ten IDPs live in one tent-shelter. They could stand straight only in the centre of the tent shelter. Their neck will break down if they move to aside of the tent-shelter.
IDPs are seen waiting in queues, extending from 50 to 100 yards to take their turn to answer a call of nature. This is the life of Vanni IDPs in Cheddiku'lam camp.
I attempted to smile at these IDPs. But it was without success. I failed to express my feeling towards them. I was unable to tell them that we also were crying with them for their suffering. I was unable to tell them that I would supply new clothes to them.
They should be provided with enough relief. We would be blamed if we fail to supply them with enough relief.They cannot expect justice from the law of the country. Their plight and suffering are not brought to the court of law in our country. I openly say this. I will be penalized for telling this.”
Now, contrast these remarks with Sri Lankan President Mahinda Rajapaksa’s rating of his army run camps in an interview with senior Indian journalist and the Editor of leading Indian English daily, The Hindu. To a question from Ram on whether he was satisfied with conditions in the Vavuniya IDP camps, Rajapaksa said (I am quoting in part)…
“I would say the condition in our camps is the best any country has. We supply water. There is a problem with lavatories. That is not because of our fault. The money that comes from the EU and others, it goes to the NGOs and the U.N. They are very slow; disbursing money is very slow. We supply the water tanks; we have spent over [Sri Lankan] Rs. 2 billion. Giving electricity, giving water, now we are giving televisions to them. They have telephone facilities. Schools have been established. Some of the leaders are using mobile phones.
I had a special meeting on the disposal of waste. I sent a special team of specialists to see how mosquitoes can be eradicated.
We know there are shortcomings. Slowly, we have to overcome them. In some camps there are no problems. What these people I sent told me: they are satisfied with the housing, the shelter. They have undergone much worse conditions earlier [when they were under the LTTE’s control].”
Rajapaksa also revealed during the course of the interview a very powerful theory that he has formulated and which he is propagating among his countrymen.
He said answering a question:
“I have warned my party people, all party people, whether Sinhala, Tamil or Muslim, that “I don’t want any statement, anything that creates a disturbance among our three communities.” Now my theory is: there are no minorities in Sri Lanka, there are only those who love the country and those who don’t. They tried to twist that but I still maintain that position.”
Now you go paraphrase what the President means when he says there are no minorities in Sri Lanka. Good luck to the Tamils!