In Sri Lanka's No Man's Land Churches Provide Some Hope for Refugees

Christians mobilize to help nearly a million left homeless by Tamil conflict

Sixteen huts fill the open space around the village church at Poorvarsankulam near Vavunniya, 170 miles north of Sri Lanka's capital, Colombo. The huts, made of coconut-palm leaves, are home to two dozen Tamil families—about 100 people in all—refugees from Sri Lanka's civil war.The church compound belongs to the Church of South India (CSI), a united church mainly based in India but with a diocese in Sri Lanka.The immediate neighbors of church-run refugee camp are Sri Lankan army personnel in their bunkers across the muddy road in front of the church. Behind the church is the frontline between the Sri Lankan army and Tamil separatist guerrillas, who are fighting for an independent Tamil state in the north and east of the country.Hundreds of Tamil families around Vavunniya had to flee last November when renewed fighting broke out between the army and the Tamil Tigers. Vavunniya marks the border between areas controlled by the army and by the Liberation Tigers of Talim Eelam (LTTE), also known as the Tamil Tigers. The army describes the LTTE-controlled territories as "uncleared" areas.Since 1983, when the LTTE began its open war against the Sri Lankan army, nearly a million people have been made homeless.Perumal Velu, a 79-year-old Hindu refugee taking shelter in the church compound, told ENI: "We are lucky to have got shelter here." He and his family live on a ration of dry rice and cereals worth US$18 a month, provided by the Sri Lankan government's relief program for internally displaced people. Just over a mile away from the CSI camp, Mallika Mary was busy preparing to move to a different camp. The government ordered her to shift to a new location, two months after "settling down" here.She told ENI that her odyssey began ...

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