More Displaced Families Settle in Mullikulam Jungle
- Await Forest Department Clearance
By Maryam Azwer
There are now 202 families seeking refuge in a jungle in the village of Mullikulam, in Musali, Mannar, sources from Mannar said.
According to Sunesh Croos, an aid worker with a local NGO, the National Fisheries Solidarity Movement (NAFSO), more families moved into the settlement last week, after the 175 families who first took up temporary residence in the jungle over a week ago. They are currently staying here, close to their old settlement, despite having to face severe hardships, in the hope that they would soon be resettled.
These families lost their homes and lands during the war, in 2007, and have been living either with friends and family in surrounding villages, or on other state land, Croos said. Recently, however, they attempted to move back to their original homes in Mullikulam, an area under Navy control.
According to Musali Divisional Secretary, Sellathurai Ketheeswaran, these people cannot go back to their original homes because it is still under Navy occupation, but the government has allocated alternative land close by. He said last Thursday that they were awaiting approval from the Presidential Task Force (PTF) and the Forest Department, before the land could be cleared and the people resettled.
“The problem is these families were resettling on their own, not in a systematic way. But we are issuing dry rations, and the Navy is also supplying water,” he said.
On Friday (June 29), Mannar Additional Government Agent, Saraswathi Mohanathan, said that they had received word from the PTF. “Policy-wise, they have approved the relocation,” she said, adding that it was now up to the Ministry of Environment to release the land. “We have written to the Ministry of Environment and the Forest Department, but so far they have not released the land. After that only we can hand over the land to the people and go for permanent assistance,” she said.
Meanwhile, Bishop of Mannar, Rev. Rayappu Joseph, said that the letter from the PTF was a ‘positive gesture.’ He said that this was good news for these people, following the five years since they were asked to leave their homes. He also said that after the people were resettled in the land allocated by the government, they would be closer to their previous homes and their church.
The Bishop added that among the hardships the families are presently facing, is the threat posed by wild elephants. “They are scared, but they are just burning firewood in the night in the hope that it would keep the elephants away,” he said.
NAFSO’s Sunesh Croos said that most of these families have been residing in the jungle for around 20 days now, and have been experiencing hard times. Some of the families have very young children, he said. They are depending on donations of dry rations, and are also being supplied with water twice a day by the Navy. “They have been told that they can go to sea now, but they don’t have any boats or equipment,” he said, adding that most of these people had depended on farming and fishing as a means of livelihood, but had lost most of this after their displacement in 2007.