The Human Tragedy Of Aluthgama
By Waruni Karunarathne
Pictures by Asoka Fernando and Megara Tegal
The incident in Aluthgama that instill terror in the hearts of the Muslim community left nearly 10000 people dislocated.
Divisional Secretary of the Beruwala Divisional Secretariat Janaka Sri Chandraguptha told The Sunday Leader that there were 8000 Muslims and 2000 Sinhalese among those who were displaced due to the incident. He added that there were initially 9 Muslim and 6 Sinhala internally displaced persons (IDP) camps – but the number of the Muslim IDP camps had come down to 7 by last Thursday.
The Al Humaisara National College is also now converted to an IDP camp for those who were dislocated due to the incident. The Old Boys’ Association (OGA) of the college and Muslims in the village along with other volunteers have been helping the displaced persons to settle in the school. They have been providing necessary facilities within their capacity.
Secretary of a mosque in Beruwala, Arush who is part of the volunteers’ team added, “The people in the camp are from the Ambepitiya area of the Beruwala Divisional Secretariat. There were about 346 Muslim families in the area – now 267 families are in the IDP camp at the Al Humaisara National College and others have found refuge with their relatives. There are total of 999 people in this camp – 486 men and 513 women and the number includes 66 breastfeeding mothers, 54 infants and 17 pregnant mothers. There are also 27 senior citizens and differently-abled persons and 5 people injured during the attack.” He added that 3 of the pregnant mothers are expecting to deliver at anytime soon, but they re scared to be admitted to the hospital.
Afraz, one of the old boys of the Al Humaisara National College told that when the houses were attacked in Ambepitiya, people initially had found refuge at the semi governmental institute Jamiah Naleemiyyah Islamiah – however the government had stated that they would not be able to provide protection, necessary goods and services if the displaced persons are lodged in a semi-government institute. He added, “Therefore people were shifted to the school as the school is a government institute.
Arush added that the education of the students in the area is completely disrupted due to the incident and even though the curfew is now being lifted they would not be able to reopen the Al Humaisara College as it functions as an IDP camp. He added, “Students were supposed to have there second term examination from 17th to 27th of this month. There are many students who are getting prepared for their A/L examination that falls in August. Their education is completely disrupted.”
The Therupalli Mosque in Darga town is one of the main Muslim IDP camps and hold more than 2500 displaced people in the camp. M.J.M Samsudeen added that there are about 7 mosques in the area that were being converted to IDP camps. He added that over 150 houses in his area were severely damaged.
One of the affected persons Fazmia said, “We have been here in the mosque since Monday. The very next day after the incident, my husband and I along with my two kids came to the mosque for protection. Our house was burnt down and there is nothing left in the house. In my area 16 houses were completely burnt down to ashes. All of them are also here in the camp.” She further added that their livelihood is being greatly affected due to the incident. She said that her family owned a small clothing business, but it was all set on fire. “The mob has stolen all the money and valuables before setting fire to the house – and there is hardly anyway of recovering the damage – and we do not have any place to go back to,” she lamented.
Sanitary facilities – a major issue
According to the people in the IDP camps, during the attack the mob has robbed the houses and taken all the valuables like jewelries, computers and laptops that they could carry and had burnt and destroyed the rest.
Rizana a female displaced person in one of the camps added, “We do not have sanitary facilities here. There are lots of young girls in the camp and there is a need for sanitary pads. Many are still wearing the same clothes that we were wearing as we ran away from home. We do not have anything to change into. Most of us came to the camp without carrying a single thing. Some people have been sending us certain goods, but most of us have not received anything.”
Adeeja added, “There are patients in the camp, but we have not received any medicine or health services from the government. Some Muslim pharmacy owners have been doing the needful.”
Another woman added, “We are not people who lived like beggars. Our people worked hard and most of us earned a good living. Everything is being destroyed and we are being brought down to the level where we wait for others to give us food and clothing. And we had done nothing to deserve this.”
Fathima a pregnant mother in an IDP camp added, “We do not receive proper food and I am still wearing the same cloth for nearly three days. I do not have access to proper medication. I am worried about the health of my unborn child.”
According to Samsudeen, they have been able to provide food and necessary other goods to the displaced people thanks to the private organisations and individuals who had been sending donations whereas the government had done nothing up to that point.
Divisional Secretary of the Beruwala Divisional Secretariat Janaka Sri Chandraguptha added that since the day of the displacement, the government had been providing prepared food as well as dry food such as rice, tea packets, sugar packets and milk power for the people in the IDP camps. He denied the claims of some people that the government has not taken measures to provide necessary food items, health and other services. According to him, he and the Government Agent visited all the IDP camps and looked into their needs and took measures to dispatch health officers to provide health services and deployed necessary employees for waste management in the camps. He added that they initially provided 50 temporary tents for the displaced persons and are continuing to provide more facilities. He added that he has the list of signatures received from the persons in charge of the camps while handing over prepared food and dry food items. He further added that under the instruction of the President they have also dispatched the Gramasewaka officers in the area to collect details of the displaced people and by Monday they will compile all the data and take necessary steps to resettle the people.
Samsudeen added that the camps have received enough dry foods from private organisations for now but since the Ramadan season will start towards the end of this month, people are agitated that they would not be able to return to their houses. He added, “Lots of houses were burnt. Most houses do not have doors and windows and they have received severe damages. Mostly, what these people want is necessary building materials to build those houses or some sort of compensation.”
Even though the police are encouraging people to return to houses that are not damaged, Muslims in the camps are still afraid to leave the IDP camps. One of the affected persons added, “The police are asking us to return to our homes saying that the STF is there to ensure our safety. How can we rely on them to provide us safety – during the attack they did nothing to give us protection. We do not have facilities in the camp but we are scared to go back to our houses. We feel safer in the camp.”
S. Rushdi added, “If we were displaced due to a flood or some sort of natural disasters, we could have made up our minds.” But he added that the saddest realization is that they are being displaced because some groups of people could not simply tolerate another religion and race. This is a threat to peace and stability of the entire country.
“We are not people who lived like beggars. Our people worked hard and most of us earned a good living. Everything is being destroyed and we are being brought down to the level where we wait for others to give us food and clothing. And we had done nothing to deserve this.”
“The police are asking us to return to our homes saying that the STF is there to ensure our safety. How can we rely on them to provide us safety – during the attack they did nothing to give us protection. We do not have facilities in the camp, but we are scared to go back to our houses. We feel safer in the camp.”
“We do not receive proper food and I am still wearing the same cloth for nearly three days. I do not have access to proper medication. I am worried about the health of my unborn child.”
Fathima, a pregnant mother
“Our house was burnt down and there is nothing left in the house. In my area 16 houses were completely burnt down to ashes. All of them are also here in the camp. There is hardly anyway of recovering the damage – and we do not have any place to go back to.”