The end of Sithamparapuram welfare centre

Sithamparapuram welfare centre was created in the mid-90s in Vavuniya District, Sri Lanka to function as welfare centre for landless Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs). Due to the civil war in the North and East of Sri Lanka many people were displaced and could often not return to their places of origin for a number of years. In addition there were Tamils who had first sought refuge in India and then decided to return to Sri Lanka, but did not own land or could not return to their place of origin. Although originally meant for landless IDPs, Sithamparapuram soon also received IDPs who owned land. The IDPs were accommodated in communal buildings, normally with 8 family rooms per building.

Remains of an old communal building and a newly constructed house

Over more than 20 years Sithamparapuram received many waves of newly displaced, but also saw regularly people leaving, either to return to their village, or to move to a relocation site. Small relocation took place in the 90s, but in the years 2001 -2003 several big relocation sites were established in Vavuniya District, which were in the first place meant for landless IDP families, in particular large families. With the escalation of the civil war in the North in 2008 Sithamparapuram received again a big influx of IDPs, and became a very crowded place with some 4000 inhabitants at the height of the emergency. Only after the end of the war in May 2009 a steady decrease of the population in the welfare centre took place.

Elderly couple that lives in Sithamparapuram since 1999

The 192 IDP families that were still living in the welfare centre in 2016 had all been there for many years and had no place to go back to, nor did they want to leave Sithamparapuram. They then lobbied and demonstrated at local government offices for several years requesting permission to remain on the land of the welfare centre.

A mother and her daughter

Newly built shelter

At last in 2016 the Government agreed to provide the remaining 192 families 60 perches of land each in the former welfare centre area. UNHCR provided them with LKR 12,000 for land clearance and the Provincial Council gave all families LKR 69,00 for transitional shelter. This grant was provided in three instalments, and the people organised themselves in a society to be able to buy construction materials in bulk at a reduced price.

An elderly lady who just washed herself at a common well.

In general the people are happy about their situation, they now got their own land, although some are still awaiting the official documents. A school, rural hospital and the Grama Sevaka office (local government) are all in the vicinity, and electricity and a bus service are available. Water and sanitation still remain somewhat problematic. The old communal latrine blocks are no longer functioning, and some of the five tube-wells are now located in the land given to families. The Government has promised 20 toilets, but now that families have their own land, family toilets are in fact what is required.

Mr. Sinniah with his wife and grandchild, and their house.

Mr. Sinniah and his wife fled to India in 1990 and returned in 1992 when they heard that the situation was normalising. They came on a special flight to Trincomalee, stayed there for one week in Alles Garden transit site and were then transported to a transit facility in Vavuniya. In 1993 they were referred to Sithamparapuram welfare centre and stayed there ever since. Being a small family they never qualified for relocation to one of the sites established in the period 2001 - 2003 in Vavuniya District. They live in the only one room left of one of the former long buildings and have constructed a small shop along the road. He also owns a truck that is sometimes hired for transport to Vavuniya.

Remains of one of the long buildings are being used for new construction.

the people in Sithamparapuram are still poor, but they now own a piece of land and are hopeful that they will soon be receiving support from the Government to construct a permanent house, something none of them ever owned before.

This little girl will just grow up in the village of Sithamparapuram, not in a welfare centre.

Created by Inge Colijn


Inge Colijn

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