By Aftab Lall
Muhammad Nabi is one of more than 6 million Afghans displaced by the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan. His journey, from being born in a Peshawar refugee camp to captaining the Afghan national team’s debut at the cricket World Cup, is a one of a kind tale. For most conflict displaced people, a return to normal life, let alone stardom, remains a distant dream.
- 51.2 million people worldwide displaced due to persecution, conflict, generalised violence or human rights violations by the end of 2013
- Pakistan has the largest number of displaced people, with 1.6 million within its borders by mid-2014
The experiences of those displaced by the Sri Lankan civil war, which ended in 2009, are a case in point. Many concerns were raised about the lack of proper facilities in the camps and internally displaced people (IDP) being compelled to return to areas where shattered livelihoods could not support normal life. The ad hoc creation of High Security Zones, restricting civilians from lands vital to their livelihoods, has also affected the rebuilding process. These measures reflected the growing authoritarianism of the previous regime, enforced through rapid militarisation. Post-war reconstruction focused heavily on infrastructure development, militarisation and control of local administrative structures by the centre, effectively sidelining local authorities. Moreover, the lack of a systematic approach to tackle access to basic services, psychosocial support and land grabs has deepened unresolved grievances.
The surge in large scale infrastructure in the North and East was accompanied by a proliferation of banks and small enterprises. The rationale for opening the North and East to national, regional and international markets was to spur economic growth and employment, thus stabilising livelihoods. However, this finance oriented post-war reconstruction is at odds with the socioeconomic makeup of the resettled communities, historically subsistence fishers and farmers who have been isolated from global markets for nearly three decades. In fact, with the increased indebtedness, youth unemployment and alcoholism that have accompanied the opening up of this region to global markets have major implications for reconciliation between the state and war-affected communities and deserve urgent attention.
Post-war reconstruction under the Rajapakshe regime saw an increase in corruption, nepotism and patronage politics, contributing significantly to the regime’s downfall in the last presidential election. While there is certainly a case for the new government to continue providing infrastructure in the conflict-affected regions, it must tackle the specific needs of people affected by the war. Although the new government has taken baby steps towards demilitarising the North, the military apparatus remains largely intact. Its seizure of private lands, along with a lack of devolution of policing and land rights pose huge barriers for people trying to find a sense of normalcy. Furthermore, the government needs to address issues of missing persons, war related trauma and disabilities, landlessness and poor housing, as well as the needs of women headed households, orphans and the elderly.
The psychological and material consequences of war remain with people long after the actual fighting has ceased and people have been resettled. Hence, equating the end of IDP status with successful resettlement is a gross misconception of the experiences of people affected by Sri Lanka’s war. The nature and conditions of resettlement must be revisited through a more holistic lens, addressing people’s economic, social, cultural and political rights. Justice and real peace demand that we do so.
For more discussion of these issues, read ‘Resettlement of conflict induced IDPs in Northern Sri Lanka: political economy of state policy and practice,’ by Chamindri Saparamadu and Aftab Lall, available through the Secure Livelihoods Research Consortium website here:
For more analysis on the Rajapakshe regime, see ‘Critically Supporting the Anti-Regime Campaign,’ by Kalana Senaratne, here: