Surveillance, shoddy treatment contribute to poor condition at refugee camps

Surveillance and shoddy treatment by the State are some of the things which we commonly hear in the case of refugees across the world and the Madurai Sri Lankan Tamil refugee camps at Anaiyur and Koodal Nagar are no exception. Everyday life in terms of basic amenities is still out of reach for them.

Anaiyur and Koodal Nagar are among the oldest camps in Tamil Nadu. Following the July 1983 riots in Sri Lanka, a total of 103 camps were constructed all over Tamil Nadu to accommodate Tamil refugees, which included the camp at Anaiyur here.

The model of the camp as a space is indeed interesting; the construction is done by Tamil Nadu Housing Board in a circular way so that every house could be easily visible to another. Anaiyur has 31 round-type apartment blocks and each round-type apartment block can hold 24 families. Built in 1983, almost all houses are in a dilapidated condition and either has damaged roofs or walls.

Many complained about the building conditions and everyone wanted to maintain anonymity as they do not wish to come under the scanner of the Q branch which has an office at the camp. Interestingly, the roof of the Q branch came down and they got it repaired recently, a youth said.

A few have moved out of their houses as the roof has caved in and they have built a temporary shed using bamboo. In other words it is a hut made up of a tarpaulin standing on bamboo frame, and a transparent bamboo wall.

Whenever there is heavy rainfall, both the camps get inundated with water and everyday life is thrown out of gear, as most of them are forced to wade through the water. Stagnant water has also made life difficult for them as they face a lot of health hazards.

Every year during monsoon it is a common sight to see the ruling party Ministers and the Corporation Mayor visit Anaiyur and Koodal Nagar as part of flood relief measures and without fail promise to set things right, but all this is in vain.

Being refugees, their the socio-economic conditions are also worse as a majority of them are poor and illiterate and are part of the everyday wage labourers found in Madurai, including construction work and painting (whitewashing) for buildings.

However, there are a good number of youth who have completed their graduation but work as construction labourers as they are not easily recruited by private organisations as there is a “stigma and fear,’’ said an elderly person.

The camps do have a few basic facilities sponsored by the European Union like water tanks and strips of cement roads.

The government has built a primary school, fair price shops and a non-governmental organisation has built a kindergarten.

The life of Sri Lankan Tamils at the refugee camps is a sad plight. They are always under vigil and mostly denied work and have restrictions to meet outsiders. Space is a constraint and overall conditions are seemingly worse and need immediate attention.

Despite all this, the camp recently saw a group of Sri Lankan Tamil boys and girls start and run a BPO unit courtesy the district administration and many in the camp felt that this could be emulated through various other efforts to make the community more inclusive.