Internally Displaced People One million in the island of Sri Lanka

Place: Sri Lanka | Courtesy: TCHR
| Date: 19980620

The Tamil Centre for Human Rights welcomes the Guiding Principles for Internally Displaced People that the Special Representative of the Secretary General Mr Francis M. Deng is introducing. In his report in February of this year it was recognised that internal displacement is one of the most tragic phenomena of the contemporary world, affecting some 25 million people worldwide. It also stated:

"Often the consequence of traumatic experiences with violent conflicts, gross violations of human rights and related causes in which discrimination features significantly, displacement nearly always generates conditions of severe hardship and suffering for the affected populations.

It breaks up families, cuts social and cultural ties, terminates dependable employment relationships, disrupts educational opportunities, denies access to such vital necessities as food, shelter and medicine, and exposes innocent persons to such acts of violence as attacks on camps, disappearances and rape.

Whether they cluster in camps, escape into the countryside to hide from potential sources of persecution and violence or submerge into the community of the equally poor and dispossessed, the internally displaced are among the most vulnerable populations, desperately in need of protection and assistance."

All of the above are so true of the crisis of the internally displaced in Sri Lanka. It is estimated that today in Sri Lanka, there are one million internally displaced people, and of these, 700,000 live in the Jaffna peninsula and the northern Vanni districts (Christian Aid Report).

Internal displacement is not a new concept to Tamils. There have been cycles of displacement of Tamils following the anti-Tamil riots in 1956, ’58, ’77, ‘81 and ’83. In the past few years, several Sri Lankan military offensives have displaced over several hundred thousand people.

The displaced have regularly sought refuge in relatively safer areas of the island, staying with family, friends or in schools and temporary camps. The lucky ones were able to flee abroad.

Year 1957-58 1983 1986


Refugees 12,000 15,000 205,000 50,000 1 million

The large numbers of displaced (almost a third of the Tamil population) and the resultant humanitarian crisis in the island have been kept hidden from the international community by the Sri Lankan government’s comprehensive and long-standing news blackout.

The displacements themselves have taken place as the Sri Lankan security forces launched large scale military offensives into Tamil areas, resulting in the deaths of large numbers of civilians, and the destruction of civilian dwellings, as well as hospitals, schools and places of worship.

The largest single mass exodus of people occurred in October of 1995, when the Sri Lankan government launched an offensive to capture the city of Jaffna, whose population had been swollen by civilians fleeing earlier government offensives. Rev. Dr S.J. Emmanuel, a witness to the exodus recalled the events of that night:

"The night of Monday October 30, 1995 was a black night in the entire history of the age old city of Jaffna. Never had history witnessed such an exodus of fear and panic stricken people screaming and squeezing themselves out of the narrow roads and lanes of Jaffna. The nearly half a million population in and around the town was literally on the roads in pouring rain inching its way out of the densely populated town into the sparsely populated and ill equipped suburban villages of Chavakachcheri, Kodikamam and Palai. It was for everyone a flight for Survival."

(Rev. Dr S. J. Emmanuel, Historic Exodus and Military Occupation of Jaffna, Sri Lanka October 1995.)

Many of the proposed Guiding Principles on Internal Displacement have been violated by the Sri Lankan Government on numerous counts. An eight year economic embargo (which also bans food and medical supplies) on Tamil areas of the island continues. Disappearances, torture, rape and extrajudicial killings by the Sri Lankan security forces are widespread in the areas where the displaced people have sought shelter.

Furthermore, the relief activities of international and local NGOs are restricted by the government and military. Censorship and a lack of access to the North and East for the local and international allows for human rights violations to take place ‘behind closed doors’.

We urge the Special Representative on Internally Displaced People to make a return visit to the island of Sri Lanka to investigate the extent of the plight of the one million refugees, who are located mainly in the North and East.

We also appeal to him to call upon the Sri Lankan Government to adhere to the guide lines and that to remove all existing impediments which cause severe hardship and suffering to the affected populations.


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