Despite the difficulties, the Sri Lankan government was fully committed to rehabilitating and resettling all the people in the camps for the Internally Displaced People (IDP), according to Sri Lankan Minister for Socio Economic Development and Youth Empowerment Arumugam Thondaman.
“Around 58,000 people have been resettled after the visit of the delegation of MPs from Tamil Nadu and in the second phase it will be about 46,000 people,” he told The Hindu on Thursday. So far a total of 81,301 people have been resettled and 1,86,446 people are in the camps waiting for their turn.
The Minister said the government could not fix a timeframe for resettlement as it depended on providing housing and completing demining operations.
“As soon as the demining is done we will be able to resettle all the people. Another team is going to come to help us with demining, thanks to the Indian government. If we get some help in housing, we will move quickly.”
The Minister pointed out that demining was still going on in countries such as Croatia, and Sri Lanka had fared far better in this regard. “The government has taken it as a duty.”
Asked what the government had done for the people to earn their livelihood, the Minister said besides ration for six months under the world food programme, the government had started giving seeds for cultivation and granted subsidy for fertilizer.
“Even to prepare the land, we are helping. We are giving agricultural tools. The land must be ready. We cannot do the spoon feeding. We must create an environment in which they will be able to stand on their legs,” he stressed.
Mr. Thondaman rejected the allegation that the government was not genuinely interested in resettling the Tamils in their areas, saying some people were trying to get political mileage by raising such allegations. “The genuineness of the government is exemplified by the progress. There are shortcomings. We don’t say that we are 100 per cent perfect.”
Besides agriculture, the government is going to create self-employment scheme for the people, making use of the vocational training given in the camps.
“Everything will not come overnight. There are priorities. Their livelihood is important. Before that they should settle down there. That is the issue today,” he said.
While return of the Tamils settled outside the country would turn around the resettlement areas in no time, the Minister said he was not confident about their quick return.
“The government has invited them to return. But I don’t think they will. Their children have grown up there. They might come forward to create a small base, because their relations are here,” he said.
Asked about his meeting with Chief Minister M. Karunanidhi, Mr Thondaman, said he was very much concerned about the welfare of the Tamils.
“When I explained him about the progress, he was reassured. We sought some help so that we could speed up the whole thing,” he said, adding that if any some social organisations were interested in helping, they were welcome to do so.
“President Mahinda Rajapaksa is keen,” he said.
Mr Thondaman, who is also the general secretary of the Ceylon Workers Congress, representing the plantation workers, said he was looking forward to help from the Indian government in education and housing. “The Sri Lankan government has provided the infrastructure and now their priority has turned towards IDP camps. So we need India’s help,” he said.