Thursday, January 16, 2014

Hundreds of Sri Lankan Tamil Catholics living in jungle ghetto

Some 200 Tamil Catholic families from the village of Mullikulam, Mannar district (Northern Province), have been stuck in a jungle ghetto for more than a year and a half, unable to fish or farm to feed themselves.

"We have no freedom and are treated like foreigners in our own land. We have been forgotten by everyone. In addition to our homes, we have also lost hope," they told AsiaNews.

Forced out of the village of Mullikulam 20 years ago, 215 families (about 400 people) have been stuck in the jungle of Marichchikattu since the end of June, amid mosquitoes, elephants and snakes, with only two bathrooms and no possibility to fish or farm the land. 

In theory, the resettlement in the forest is part of the government's resettlement programme for people displaced by the civil war. In reality, they have been left to fend for themselves with nothing - no home, no tools, no tents, and no fishing rods - after the Navy seize their land.

In December 2012, Card Malcolm Ranjith, archbishop of Colombo and president of the Bishops' Conference of Sri Lanka, and Defence Minister Gothabaya Rajapaksa visited the refugees.

Despite promises that a solution would be found as soon as possible, nothing has happened. Except for the regular but limited action of the Sisters of the Holy Family, no one in authority has shown any interest in their situation.

"They only gave us back our rice fields, but not the rest of the land," they told AsiaNews. "They had promised to give us two water tanks for farming, but we only got one, which is not enough for everyone. We do not have enough nets for fishing, and we can go as far as 1.5 km from the shore. If our boats go any further, even if they are blown off course by the wind, the Navy can punish us."

Although the forest has plenty of Palmyra trees, which produce very nutritious fruits, "we cannot pick them," they lamented.

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