The Ceylon Tamil Teachers’ Union (CTTU) submitted a report to the Sri Lankan minister of education, Hon Susil Prema Jeyanth, expressing its concerns about teachers and pupils currently living in refugee camps in the Vanni region, located in the northern part of the country.
90761 pupils and 2934 teachers are reported to be displaced from their homes as a result of the 25-year civil war that has ravaged the country until recently this year. Out of these, 68688 pupils and 2383 teachers are said to be held in refugee camps.
According to the CTTU, these teachers and pupils have lost their homes and all their properties, except for the clothes they wore when they fled the violence.
Among the 18 requests enumerated in the report, the CTTU is asking for the release of teachers and students in the refugee camps so that they could return to their original communities, or at least stay with relatives and friends in neighbouring districts. Furthermore, the teaching and non-teaching staff currently in the camps should be allowed to work and follow teacher-training courses outside the camps.
“Life in the refugee camps is hard and our members trapped there still have to live through the traumas they had experienced from the violence,” wrote the CTTU. “The Ceylon Tamil Teachers’ Union is deeply concerned about the physical and mental well-being of its members.”
By the end of the civil war earlier in May, nearly 300 000 civilians were living in schools and displacement camps. Manik Farm is said to be the world’s largest camp for war refugees, holding 210 000 ethnic Tamil civilians displaced in the final battles of the war. It even contains banks, post offices, schools and a supermarket. But no one is allowed to come out and hardly any visitor is allowed in. The situation in the camp is alarming: Fifteen people share a tent meant for five, potable water is scarce and diseases thrive.
The CTTU demands that union officials be allowed to visit the camps and meet with the principals, teachers and pupils there to assess their education and other basic needs.