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Villagers allowed home after six years exile

Caritas negotiates an end to villagers' forced displacement

Villagers allowed home after six years exile
Residents of Palukathurei mark their return to the village with a ceremony and feast at the local church reporter, Kalpitiya
Sri Lanka

July 30, 2012

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For the past six years, Palukathurei village has been home to naval personnel rather than the residents who had lived and fished there for decades. The half-demolished church was the only building left standing, following the end of the long-running civil war between the national armed forces and the Tamil Tigers. "Navy bunkers have been built in place of the coconut palms," said Girigoris Dunson Dias, a 48-year-old father of three. “The village is like an abandoned graveyard.” That was how it appeared to Dias and 150 families when they returned at the weekend. They were finally allowed back there after Caritas succeeded in convincing the authorities. For the past six years, the fishermen had been relocated to the Kalpitiya Islands. The navy forced them to go there when their village was declared a no-go military zone in 2006. The relocation had a negative effect on their livelihoods. From Palukathurei, it would cost the fishermen just US$5 in fuel for each boat to make the trip out to sea, an amount which climbed steeply to $22 from their new settlement. “In our lives, the main thing is work,” said Anthony Marcus Pillei, a 50-year-old returnee. “Without that we cannot think about our daily bread, the education of our children and other things.” A weekend ceremony to mark the villagers' return included a Mass and a feast for the first time since 2006.  At the event, Senior Social Welfare Minister Milroy Fernando praised Caritas for helping the fishermen. He pointed out that the people of Palukathurei were among nearly half a million people displaced by the fighting which reached a climax with the final victory of the government forces in May 2009. Still today, 6,000 of these people remain in welfare centers. Father A. Barnaba, director of the local branch of Caritas, said it had been a difficult process. “Many a time the answer to their appeals was unsympathetic but we never gave up as this is about the lives of poor fishing families and their basic rights,” he said. Related reports Displaced Tamils protest for access to land

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