The Commission on the Expulsion of Muslims from the Northern Province has come to the following conclusions regarding the expulsion, the displacement and return:
1. The Expulsion remained marginal within the discourse of the conflict and the many peace processes due to a combination of factors—namely the lack of community mobilization, the insufficient attention paid to publicizing the issue by Muslim politicians and the fact that northern Muslims own interests became secondary to the interests of the Muslim political parties.
2. The northern Muslims seem to have been caught up in the struggle to access state and NGO resources for the community and have not sufficiently stressed the importance of making the issue better known within the larger world. They have only been minimally successful in making the issue one of global prominence.
3. Some of the issues that the northern Muslims faced while displaced were common to most Sri Lankan citizens affected by the conflict. For instance, the fact that the ration amount was not increased in two decades affected not just the Muslim IDPs but other IDPs as well. Additionally the language difficulties faced by northern Muslims while accessing health care facilities or when visiting government offices are those faced by Tamil speaking people all over the country. Muslims to date have paid insufficient attention to articulating their issues as concerns common to the country as a whole.
4. The larger Sri Lankan Muslim community has mobilized itself to provide humanitarian assistance to the community but have done little in the way of lobbying to make the issue prominent on the national or international stage. This is emerging only now.
5. There needs to be a better usage of social media to make the issue more prominent nationally and internationally.
6. The Expulsion seemed to be in response to the SLMC’s actions against LTTE ideology. The LTTE may have tried to undermine the SLMC’s political strength through this act. But it seems to have strengthened it instead.
7. The northern Muslims did not expect to be displaced for so long. Many seem to have expected to return within a short period – some said a matter of weeks. Others a couple of years. None anticipated a twenty year period of exile.
8. The Northern Muslim community has grown considerably since 1990. There is an inadequate appreciation of the natural increase of the population at the policy level and the necessity of accommodating the larger numbers in planning for northern Muslim return and resettlement.
9. The response of the Tamil leadership at the time of the expulsion was inadequate. This is true of the political leadership as well as the Catholic Church. While there are stories of individual Tamils, individual Catholic priests talking to the LTTE, trying to buy the Muslims more time, there is no evidence of the leadership mounting any substantial critique of the LTTE’s actions.
10. The University Teachers for Human Rights reporting of the incident is the one exception to the above.
11. The response of the Sinhala leadership and the state in general was also inadequate. From the failure to respond to the expulsion in Mannar even though a large army camp was located in the Silawaturai area, where a majority of the northern Muslims lived, to the manner in which assistance was provided during the displacement, and the resettlement process is being undertaken today, it is clear that the state has not acted to prioritize Muslim interests.
12. Northern Muslim resettlement, as part of the “old IDP” problem has been a distant priority for the state and returning northern Muslims have been made to feel like second class citizens.
13. The absence of attention to the event when it first happened, the lack of attention that it got in the aftermath and the current second class treatment that northern Muslims received after the defeat of the LTTE, all speak to systematic neglect of the issue. In this final instance the culpability of the international community should also be pointed out. In pressurizing the government to deal with the New IDPs the international pressure left out the Old IDPs. In falling in line with the manner in which the government looks at the problem as limited to the new IDPS the international NGOs have contributed and been complicit in the exclusion of Muslims. The justification of this stance on the basis of the need to work with the government rings hollow.
14. A generation of northern Muslims lost out on their education and the possibility of a future of some economic prosperity and status due to the expulsion. Parents lost the ability to educate their children, government servants were compelled to give up their jobs and their substantial pensions due to the expulsion.
15. The economic losses suffered by the northern Muslims are staggering. There have been two attempts at calculating the losses. The first was the Refugee Survey of 1991 conducted by Research and Action Forum for Social Development (RAAF) and the more recent was the survey conducted by M.I.M. Mohideen in 2004. According to Mohideen the losses of residential properties, commercial and industrial establishments, agricultural lands, religious institutions, gold and jewellery, livestock, and so on amounts to around US $112 million.
16. The twenty years since the expulsion has all but erased the evidence of Muslim presence in the North. This, coupled with the needs and wants of respective local populations is causing great difficulties for resettling Northern Muslims. The state’s neglect and the absence of the Muslim leadership is only reinforcing Muslims marginal position in the north. Therefore it is essential that the government is seen to endorse Muslim return.
17. The Commission identified the following as issues that have to be addressed with regards to returning northern Muslims and land
a. Northern Muslims are facing difficulties in identifying their lands –boundaries of some are not traceable.
b. There are others occupying lands owned by Muslims unlawfully. In some cases ownership is being disputed.
c. Many northern Muslims have lost ownership documents for their land and are finding it difficult to obtain copies or attestations as to their ownership from local land registries and the Grama Niladharis and District Secretaries.
d. Some northern Muslims were compelled to sell their land by the LTTE.
e. In some areas, land belonging to Muslim villages have been claimed by persons of neighbouring Tamil villages. Such claims have been endorsed by the local administration. This is leading to tension and mistrust between the Muslim and Tamil population.
f. Some were compelled to sell due to hardship faced in displacement and expect compensation for property sold at low prices. (some want to buy back their lands)
g. Tenants have lost their rented premises.
h. There are land disputes between the Catholic Church in Mannar and the displaced Muslims of Mannar Island in particular. Muslims fear that their claims may not get an adequate hearing even in court due to the power that the church holds in Mannar. The Commission spoke with representatives of the church and it hopes that amicable resolution can be made of such issues in a manner that is fair by all concerned.
18. The Muslims who bought land in Puttalam to access government housing assistance have many different sorts of ownership documents—many of which may not be legal documents. Therefore some measures need to be taken to regularize northern Muslims’ ownership of property in Puttalam as well.
19. There is little or no acknowledgement of the mental stress and trauma caused by an event of this nature. The shock of having to leave at short notice, the stress brought about by the complete abandonment of their homes and lives and livelihoods, the manner in which these stressors affected their family and marital lives have not been adequately explored or acknowledged. The northern Muslims as a community have minimal access to psycho-social support services in Puttalam and elsewhere.
20. Northern Muslims have been resilient and built up their lives despite the expulsion. Some have become prominent and even wealthy in Puttalam and elsewhere. However, this is not true of all northern Muslims. Some continue to languish in welfare centers in conditions similar to those that they first came to twenty years ago. Some continue to have no water or electricity and sanitation continues to be poor.
21. The perception that Muslims are all traders was shown to be false. A large number of the persons from the north were farmers and fisher folk. Some of them owned large tracts of land and had a special relationship to their land. Most held their ancestral connection to the land and to the place very close to their hearts.
22. The perception that Muslims were all somehow able to take care of themselves was also proven to be false. In fact the manner in which the host and displaced communities were virtually left to fend for themselves with the government doing little to address the inadequate state services in the area and the lack of employment opportunities has seriously strained relations between the communities. The good relations based on the common religion and culture they share sometimes breaks down in the face of multiple stress factors.
23. The short sighted manner in which services have been provided to the northern Muslim community has exacerbated host and IDP differences and led to tensions between the communities. Greater thought was needed in servicing an IDP population that was suddenly thrust upon a somewhat impoverished and peripheral regional community.
24. While the northern Muslims may have integrated well into the Puttalam economy and built up substantial communities in the area the distinction between them and the host community continues to be strongly felt and articulated and the northern Muslims are not integrated into Puttalam community in any significant way. The maintenance of their IDP registration as well as some structural features such as the building of settlements with names from the north, the provision of assistance to those settlements from authorities other than the local municipality has helped maintain the northern Muslims’ sense of separateness from the host community. The host community in turn has watched with resentment as sections of the northern Muslim community has received roads, pipe borne water and electricity while many of their villages continue to live without such services.
25. While many Northern Muslims are returning in large numbers, a significant percentage has also decided to stay behind in Puttalam and is beginning to register there. This means that some significant work needs to be done to build confidence between the two communities and also convince the northern Muslims of their allegiance to Puttalam.
26. The lack of employment opportunities for youth from low income families in Puttalam continues to be a problem for both host and displaced communities.
27. The northern Muslims were a community used to interacting with ethnic others. And while the north became a mono ethnic place after the expulsion of Muslims, the northern Muslims too were, for the most part, compelled to live in a mono ethnic context among the Muslims of Puttalam. Therefore the Commission encountered many who spoke of a fear of “losing their culture” if they were to return to the north due presumably to the influence of the Tamil community. The Commission sees this as an unfortunate consequence of the war and polarization of communities – that we as a nation are collectively unable to appreciate religious and cultural difference.
28. The north suffered tremendous changes in the twenty years during which the northern Muslims were expelled. Some Tamil leaders have interpreted the expulsion as a “blessing in disguise” in that the majority of northern Muslims missed the destruction wrought on communities in the north during the conflict. While the fact that the northern Muslims were spared the experience of destruction during those twenty years can be acknowledged, as well as the suffering of the people who were compelled to live under the LTTE; it should not be forgotten that the northern Muslims were chased out with barely any notice under the threat of violence. This is an act of ethnic cleansing and should be acknowledged as such.
29. It can also be acknowledged that the northern Muslims had more access to state and NGO services, had more mobility and less restrictions placed on their daily lives due to the fact that they lived outside the conflict zone and did not have to experience the security concerns and the restrictions of access to goods that was the norm in displaced camps in the conflict areas.
30. The Commission noted that the women of the community suffered great hardships during the time of the conflict, during the expulsion experience, and the long term displacement. The Commission report has tried to illustrate the variety of such experiences that it encountered.
31. Women of the community have been compelled to take on the burden of income earning and been subjected to moral policing within the more conservative context of Puttalam. While many said that they benefited from the greater religiosity that they were compelled to embrace during displacement, we were also told of difficulties encountered in the transition period. Many girl children lost out on their education and many women were unable to pursue careers due to the different roles expected of women in Puttalam during the early years of the displacement. The Commission felt that the women of the community continued to bear a significant burden within the community without sufficient support or acknowledgement.
32. We also met women activists who told us of their problems when serving the community. We felt that women’s work and ideas continue to be devalued in the community. Greater space and greater attention to the work that women are doing would serve the community well.
33. The northern Muslims have seen the inflow of aid that occurred in the aftermath of the Tsunami of December 2004 and the steps taken to address the massive housing need that occurred. Protracted displacement is a long term problem with consequences for hundreds of thousands of lives and should be recognized as such. The need for housing provision of a massive scale has to be recognized and addressed. While some measures are being instituted to address the massive housing needs in the north, more needs to be done and at greater speed. Also housing assistance should be provided in an equitable manner that endorses the right to return of all communities that were compelled to leave due to the war, including those who were expelled.
34. Returning Muslims face a number of challenges in establishing communities back in the north. They require greater state endorsement and more support and engagement from civil society and the NGO community.
35. Northern Muslims returning to all of the areas in the north complained of their reception by state officials in the north. While there are a few exceptions – the GA of Vavuniya and the DS of Musali were mentioned as very helpful—many of the state officials who were Tamil were very unhelpful to Muslims in getting their administrative tasks attended to. This is especially troubling due to the new land registration system that is being introduced – the Bim Saviya Program. Under this program the Grama Niladhari and the District Secretary have enormous powers in demarcating and deciding land ownership. Northern Muslims fear that they may lose their lands because of the inaction and discrimination of the administrative officials.
36. While there are some state officials who are Muslims, it is important that there be a greater representation of Muslim cadre in the administrative service to address the returning northern Muslims concerns. While all administrative officials need to be sensitized to be ethnically neutral in their provision of services, it is also important that Muslims have adequate representation in the administrative service.
37. Many northern Muslims were eager to return to the north but found it difficult to leave their lives in Puttalam behind due to the lack of facilities in the north. This was erroneously perceived by many state functionaries as a problem that the Muslims had to deal with speedily. The Commission felt that this being-in-two-places was a strategy that helped many to deal with the enormous challenges of return after a twenty year period of displacement. It should be recognized as such by people designing policy and assistance programs. Northern Muslims should not be compelled to choose one option too quickly.
38. Although facilities were inadequate, northern Muslims were uniformly pleased and happy to be back in their own lands. They spoke of the sense of freedom that the open spaces and the familiar landscape offered them and also appreciated the fact that language was no longer an issue. 39. The political actors and their agendas have improved the lives and conditions of some of the northern Muslims. The assistance brought to them by M.H.M. Ashraff, Noordeen Mashoor, Aboobakr, Illyas and Risharth Bathideen must be acknowledged. But the politicians must collectively be held responsible for the relatively small place the northern Muslims even now seem to have on the national agenda for resettlement, and for development of the north and east.
40. The short sighted actions of some Muslim politicians is exacerbating tensions between the northern Muslims and their neighbors in Puttalam and the north. Politicians need to be more sensitive to the long term impact of their actions on the communities’ interactions with their neighbors.
41. The leadership of both the Muslims and the Tamils must address the problems of return and resettlement that both communities are encountering. Some of the problems are common to the two communities and can be addressed collectively. Some require the goodwill of the other ethnic community. Therefore the leadership of each community needs to be sensitive to the problems of the other ethnic community. Such sensitivity is needed to ensure successful return and resettlement of both communities.
42. Sinhala majority party politicians must articulate the northern Muslim issue and bear some responsibility for its marginal status.
On the basis of the conclusions arrived at above, the Commission makes the following recommendations to the government, NGOs, INGOs and UN Agencies, and the Muslim political and civil society leadership :
To the Government
1. The government should officially recognise the expulsion of Muslims from the Northern Province as an act of ethnic cleansing committed during the course of the war and further, acknowledge the inadequate assistance provided to the Muslims by the state in the aftermath of the expulsion.
2. The government policy on IDPs should pay greater attention to those displaced during the conflict prior to the most recent hostilities. (Old IDPs) The massive problem of protracted displacement should be recognised and addressed. The general IDP policy should be formulated to recognize the different experiences of displacement and the specific nature of needs.
3. The state policy should be informed to northern Muslims and information on what assistance they are entitled to should be made accessible.
4. Although some assistance programs to the northern Muslims have been implemented very recently, Muslims feel that their resettlement is lagging behind. Government must take measures to ensure that the Muslims too benefit equally from the peace dividend and the Northern Spring.
5. Representatives of government authorities assisting Northern Muslims need to be sensitized better to the expulsion experience and the need to reestablish Muslim communities in the North. They should be instructed to provide assistance of a better quality to returning northern Muslims to address the issues that they face upon return – especially issues concerning land.
6. There should be more senior Muslim officials appointed to the administrative service in the north to overcome the absence of such cadre in the service and to address returning Muslims’ concerns regarding discrimination.
7. The specific expulsion experience should be recognised through the usage of a term other than ‘internally displaced persons’. Forcibly evicted persons, or expelled persons should be considered.
8. The lack of an adequate response by the government to the expulsion compelled the Northern Muslims to depend on the resources of fellow Muslims. While the Muslim community of Puttalam were able to respond to the emergency in 1990, the need to continue to support the population for twenty years has seriously drained the resources of the community and has affected relations between the host community in Puttalam and the Northern Muslims. Therefore, the state must also acknowledge the difficulties faced by the host community and consider the possibility of compensation.
9. The Puttalam area was compelled to support a sudden increase in population as well as their continued presence for twenty years. Therefore the district must also be officially recognised as a war affected area and development measures instituted. These measures should be designed to benefit both the displaced community and the host community.
10. The needs of the many thousands of northern Muslims who stay back in Puttalam must be addressed. To ensure that they are not disenfranchised by their decision to stay back –especially if cluster polling is no longer practised-- they should be informed of the advantages of registering as voters in Puttalam.v 11. Assurances should be given that they would not lose out on future compensation measures –if any-- if they decide to register as voters in Puttalam
12. Muslims feel neglected and forgotten by the government. They feel that this neglect is due to the fact of being a minority community. In the post war context the state should look at the manner in which it treats its minorities and take minority representatives’ perspectives into consideration when designing assistance schemes.
13. Both the government and the NGOs must engage in confidence and trust building measures between the Muslims and the Tamils in the north to minimize ethnic tensions that may arise when Muslims return to the north. The North has been mono-ethnic for twenty years, and many of the younger generation of Tamils do not know or recognize Muslims and their right to return to the north. Religious and community leaders of both communities should be encouraged to meet in order to facilitate amicable and peaceful coexistence of both communities.
14. Voting rights of displaced Muslims should be assured. Currently those applying for the vote in the Jaffna or Mannar district with an address in Puttalam are disqualified. Measures need to be taken to ensure that new generations of northern Muslims do not become disenfranchised due to the displacement.
15. Currently cluster polling has been discontinued. This decision should be revisited after a proper assessment of returning numbers is conducted and Muslims return experience – where they maintain links with both Puttalam and the north – is taken into account. The Commission recommends that cluster polling is continued for another three years until the resettlement process reaches some momentum and more northern Muslims make decisions regarding either return to the north or permanent settlement in Puttalam and elsewhere.
16. The Commission has come across a variety of problems regarding the northern Muslims protracted displacement and issues of land. s The Commission recommends that the government take the necessary measures to address the many conflicts that prevail over land. Measures must be taken to enact special legislation as necessary in order to do so. Measures should also be taken to give ownership to those holding permits. Rights of inheritance must be recognized.
17. Land grants should be made to returning northern Muslim families taking into account the natural increase that has happened during protracted displacement. If land is not available in the villages from which northern Muslims originated, then alternative land of a similar nature .i.e suitable for agriculture, should be made available to them. When such alternative land is found Muslims should be resettled in large community groups so that single families do not feel isolated, and communities do not lose their social networks through resettlement.
18. Reparations for losses. A policy must be formulated in keeping with international standards currently in operation with regards to reparations.
NGOs, INGOs and UN Agencies
19. The dire conditions of the welfare centres in Puttalam must be recognised and NGOs should consider Puttalam as a priority area. There is a certain aid fatigue in relation to Puttalam. But it should not be forgotten that many people in the welfare centres in Puttalam still live without toilets and access to drinking water.
20. Psychosocial services need to be improved in Puttalam.
21. The local community leaders --both northern Muslim and host --must be given some conflict resolution and mitigation training.
22. Clean water and sanitation provision should be done to all those in the area who do not have access to such services.
23. Livelihood support should be provided to the poor displaced and host communities of Puttalam. Greater employment opportunities in agriculture and fishing should be created for all communities in Puttalam.
24. Training should be provided in Human Rights and Women’s Rights.
25. UNHCR funding cash grants only for those rendered IDP after 2008 is troubling and against all internationally accepted principles of non-discrimination. International response to IDPs should not be discriminatory.
26. NGOs should design assistance programs for returning northern Muslims that take their particular experience seriously. Working with northern Muslims should not be dismissed as “difficult” purely because their experience does not conform to the implementation requirements of a “one-size –fits-all” pre designed aid package.
27. Returning northern Muslim communities need assistance with income generation activities for the period during which they cannot cultivate their paddy fields. (They asked for assistance with tube wells for lift irrigation to do onion and chilly cultivation.)
28. School children need assistance to continue their schooling in an area where the transport system is only just beginning to function. They need either a regular bus service or a bicycle. The lack of such assistance is increasing the number of dropouts.
29. Drinking water and sanitation continue to be a problem in many areas to which northern Muslims are returning. They need wells and toilets.
To the Muslim Political and Civil Society Leadership
1. The Muslim leadership should be better engaged in publicising the Northern Muslim expulsion.
2. When issues faced by Muslim communities are shared by other communities, attempts should be made to articulate such issues on a common platform. Strategic partnerships for activism should be encouraged.
3. The tensions between the host and IDP communities reached an alarming intensity during the period when the Commission was writing its report. Therefore the Muslim leadership and community organisations should take measures to address and mitigate these tensions.
4. The Muslim political leadership should take measures to avoid exacerbating tensions between the Muslims and their neighbors in Puttalam and the north. The Northern Muslims are facing great difficulties in return. Greater support and assistance is required from the larger Muslim community in the country. 5. The Muslim leadership should also not be seen to be advocating for Muslim return alone. Especially the civil society Muslim leadership should find ways of working with the Tamil leadership in the respective areas and of fostering a culture of collective work and coexistence.