Feature Article

Battered Komari fears long years in refugee camps

[TamilNet, Tuesday, 25 January 2005, 10:58 GMT]
Komari is a village settled mostly by families that came to work at a British Royal Air Force runway on Sri Lanka’s remote southeastern coast during World War II. It is a narrow but densely populated promontory sandwiched between a lagoon and the sea. During the Eelam Wars (1983-2002), Komari was ruthlessly controlled like an open prison by the Special Task Force (STF), the elite counter insurgency wing of the Sri Lankan armed forces. Last month the place was literally flattened by the Tsunami. The STF camp in Komari’s midst is now a heap of rubble. “Will we ever get permanent homes?” is the fear echoed by many refugees here who spoke to TamilNet Tuesday.

"The government never built homes for the people who were evacuated from the Kanjikudichcha Aaru region in 1990. They languished in tattered refugee camps for more than a decade. Colombo might do the same to these people", Mr. Ariyanayakam Chandranehru, ex Tamil MP for the Amparai District told TamilNet.

The Tsunami wiped out all permanent structures in Komari except a temple and a badly damaged Methodist church. The causeway on the main coast road across the lagoon’s estuary was ripped by the Tsunami, cutting off the village from the closest town – Pottuvil.

Komari is 95 kilometres south of Batticaloa.

The Methodist Day Care Centre for children completely knocked down by the waves.
Tents provided to those who fled the Tsunami’s fury by the IOM.
Only the bent sign of the local Methodist Day Care Centre for children remains. The centre was completely knocked down by the waves.

The Komari School is in ruins.

Shrub jungle on either side of the coastal road from Akkaraipattu to Pottuvil near Komari was cleared by the refugees with assistance of some NGO’s including the Tamil Rehabilitation Organisation (TRO) and an emergency shelter zone was established. International Organisation for Migration (IOM) provided tents for those who fled the Tsunami’s fury.

TRO was also involved in cooking and distributing meals to them.

Later on the orders of the Sri Lankan government, the STF took over the refugee settlement and barred TRO from working there.

TRO officials in the area said that the distribution of aid is now haphazard as the STF is not trained to deal with refugees.

Foreign and local welfare organizations that want to help the refugees of Komari arrive daily at the roadside settlement. Some stay for a few days. Others leave as soon as they distribute the goods.

As in many other refugee camps controlled by the STF, there is a scramble for goods when aid is distributed.

The Finnish Red Cross hospital.
Water supply point.
Remains of the Komari STF camp.
The repaired causeway.
Devastation in Komari.
“We were trying to bring about a system for the equitable distribution of aid and to prevent repetition. Corruption and poor management are inevitable when there is no sense of a system among the refugees”, said Mr. P. Athavan, the deputy head of the TRO in the Amparai District.

Finnish Red Cross runs a clinic in the roadside camp for Komari refugees. It has set up a tent hospital further down the road.

A drinking water supply point with collapsible plastic reservoirs has been set up by a foreign NGO about three kilometres from the camp.

“There are 2718 persons in the camps for the Tsunami refugees of Komari. The majority of these are women (890) and children (928). A lot of them are traumatized. They need not only aid but counseling”, Mr. Athavan says. A Police officer in Akkaraipattu told TamilNet that about seventeen commandos in the Komari STF camp are believed dead in the Tsunami.

Snakes and wild elephants menace the tent dwellers at night. Parents are worried about children who stray into the jungle. The ground tends to get soggy with the rains. The monsoon has been merciless this season.

Meanwhile, Sri Lanka’s Road Development Authority (RDA) has temporarily repaired the Komari causeway. As in other places, concerned residents express concern that the temporary fixture might make this vital link to their village a permanently patched up causeway.

Residents who have lost all their belongings and homes lament that when the Tsunami hit them last month their lives had just started improving after almost eighteen years economic hardships and deprivations they endured under the STF’s iron grip on Komari.

Fishing in the lagoon and the sea and rice cultivation in the fertile fields in the hinterlands to the west were banned by the STF. Essential supplies were also quite restricted.

The village, considered prosperous by eastcoast standards and its large Methodist middle class saw economic decline over the years as a consequence of ruthless counter insurgency measures by the STF.

The cease fire between the Liberation Tigers and the Government of Sri Lanka changed everything for the better. Restrictions were lifted. Farming, fishing and business began to improve in Komari and its environs. New homes in this picturesque village by the Bay of Bengal were signs of the good times.

Many residents who have lost their houses fear that the Sri Lankan government may never build them permanent homes.

“If somebody helps us build our homes, we will rebuild our lives”, Mrs. G. Kanakammah, a senior resident of Komari said, standing amidst the debris that was once her garden.

STF post at the Refugee camp for Komari refugees.

Komari Map


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