COVID curfews hurt livelihood of resettled people of Ira'nai-theevu twin-islet

[TamilNet, Friday, 17 April 2020, 14:06 GMT]
The SL fisheries authorities have neglected marketing arrangements for the fish caught by the recently resettled Tamil fishers of Ira'nai-theevu twin-islets that lie 12 nautical miles from the western coast of Ki'linochchi district. The prices have dropped from 1,000 rupees to 300 rupees for one-kilo crabs and from 800 rupees to 200 rupees for cuttlefish catch. More than sixty families are residing in Ira'nai-theevu without permanent housing. The people of the islets facing the Palk Bay are also deprived of community assistance during the curfew. In the meantime, there were reports of COVID-19 infections at the SL military-operated Quarantine Center at Muzhangkaavil, a coastal hamlet located near their temporary settlement, Ira'nai-maathaa-nakar in the mainland. Those infected were medical personnel brought for quarantine from the South.

The uprooted people from Ira'nai-theevu are staying at Ira'nai-maathaa-nakar since 1992. The locations of Ira'nai-theevu and Ira'nai-maathaa-nakar are shown in the map. [Image Courtesy: British made One Inch Map, revised in 1972 by ‘Sri Lanka’ Survey Department, Legend by TamilNet]

Only around 30 families were residing in the twin-islet since almost permanently following their courageous sea landing in April 2018, which came after nearly one year of continuous protest at Muzhangkaavil.

However, since the recent curfew imposed to control the spread of COVID-19 pandemic, more than sixty families are residing in the twin-islet as their children didn't need to go to schools in the mainland.

Apart from the UNDP provided facilities such as one potable water system, a reconstructed fishing jetty and the solar-powered road lights, there is no electricity or medical facilities.

Due to restricted potable water, the families have to walk for 6 km to get water from an SL Navy operated facility.

Poonakari Divisional Secretariat or the District Secretariat officials have not made any special arrangements for them, the families complain.

The officials, when contacted by TamilNet, were citing the lack of political will on the part of the SL government to provide housing or other resettlement assistance to the people.

The structures under the unitary SL State are refusing to give resettlement assistance stating that there is no room for assisting the same people twice.

Since the people have received alternative arrangements for their temporary resettlement in the mainland, known as Ira'nai-maathaa-nakar, they cannot receive resettlement assistance when moving back to their native village.

But, the real reason is that the Colombo wants to discourage the people from resettling in the islet which it intends to retain as a high-security area for naval purposes, the Tamil officials said.

Around 750 Eezham Tamil families were living in Ira'ani-theevu when they were uprooted for the first time on 10 August 1992.

The residents of the islets have a recorded history of 400 years of Catholic heritage. Their parish comes under the Jaffna Diocese.

The remaining families also want to move back to the native islet once the necessary infrastructures for education and primary health care as well as proper housing get restored.

The houses were not destroyed in the crossfire between the SL armed forces and the LTTE. The destruction was primarily caused by the SL Navy that occupied their islet during the last phase of the war. As such, the SL State is more responsible for restoring their houses, the resettling people say.

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