REHABILITATION: Beginning a new life

The end of the war has seen a lot of changes in the lives of those who were affected by it for more than 30 years.
The government and many other organisations are continuing with their assistance to those who were affected during the last phase of the war, which defeated terrorism in May 2009.
The 30-year-old war had created scars and damages and needs several years to be healed and repaired. Thousands of persons had lost their lives and many families were affected due to the unstable conditions that had prevailed in the country especially in the north and east, where the war had taken place.
The government has shifted its focus from the war to reconciliation. One of the main responsibilities vested on the government was to ensure that the scars due to the war did not widen the gap between the communities any further.
Last Thursday, the Minister of External Affairs Professor G. L. Peiris pointed out that the government’s primary objective during the post war period was to reconcile the people and that violence does not crop up again.
Thousands of former LTTE cadres surrendered to the military during the final days of the war and many were identified by the military and taken for rehabilitation.
The authorities said 11,664 former combatants taken in for rehabilitation and were housed in 24 centres around the country.
The main challenge before the government was to ensure that the ex-combatants who were being rehabilitated do not resort to violence or get back to the gun culture, to which they had been used all their lives.
The former cadres had to look for other options in order to forget the past and start a new life.
The Bureau of the Commissioner General of Rehabilitation officially commenced in October 2009, and focussed on changing the former combatants into civilised persons, suitable to be absorbed into to the community at large.
The former combatants joined the 300,000 odd people who were fleeing for their lives from the war zone during the final stages. They were asked to separate from the civilians and were taken to be rehabilitated.
The military also used the information gathered from intelligence to separate the combatants those who did not surrender. The details of their family members and their next-of-kins were also collected.
Commissioner General of Rehabilitation, Brigadier Sudantha Ranasinghe said those who were taken in for rehabilitation underwent psycho social and socio economic profiling and were then sent to the centres around the country.
The LTTE was known to have had recruited children into its organisation. Many allegations were levelled against the organisation for forcible recruitments of children to its ranks.
Even though the LTTE had denied them, the accusations were justified, as a considerable number of children had surrendered to the military.
The former combatants who were to be rehabilitated included 594 children who had missed out on the opportunity of education due to war. Brig. Ranasinghe said many of them were forcibly recruited while some had joined on their own. These children were sent to Boossa where there was a section dedicated for children.
Brig. Ranasinghe stated that that after the initial rehabilitation process, children under the age of 16 were allowed to undergo formal education training while the others were given the option of either pursuing their studies or follow vocational training.
The children were sent to Ratmalana Hindu college for their education while the grown ups were sent to two schools in Pampaimadu and Vavuniya. “The education process for the grown up or adult students was called ‘Catch-up’ programme. They had to forego their educational activities half way after being conscripted to the LTTE,” Brig. Ranasinghe said.
In addition to children, a little over 2,000 women were also housed in rehabilitation centres. They were housed in four rehabilitation centres. “We were very particular in making sure that each centre did not exceed more than 500 persons. This is to ensure that there are no administrative problems. It is easy to manage when the number is controllable,” Brig. Ranasinghe said.
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Methods adopted in rehabilitating
Brig. Ranasinghe pointed out that a 6+1 method was being used in the rehabilitation process, which covered the entire aspects.

1. Strengthen their spiritual lives and get them involved in cultural activities.
2. Provide them with formal education, which they had missed due to being involved in fighting.
3. Provide them with vocational training and livelihood programmes.
4. Social communication and family activities.
5. Psychological creative therapy.
6. Sports and extra-curricular activities.
7. Awareness among public on accepting them to society.
Having given the training and the confidence to live a fresh life, Brig. Ranasinghe pointed out that the public also had an important role to play in the reintegration of these former combatants.

Educating the public
The Commissioner General said that the Bureau had conducted several sessions in order to educate the people in accepting the former combatants into their society. “There was a situation where the people were not willing to accept them into the society because of the problems they had faced. Therefore, I travelled to several parts in the north and the east and spoke to the people,” he said.
The authorities have had several discussions with the Government Agents of the areas, community leaders and religious leaders and had called them to support the rehabilitated people to build their lives from scratch.
“We have confidence in them (former combatants). That is why we are sending them out to the world. Therefore, the people also should have confidence in them and accept them into their society,” he further said.

Vocational training
The ex-combatants or beneficiaries as they were referred to by the Commissioner General were given training on various fields during the rehabilitation process.
The training included masonry, carpentry, and glasswork, wiring and computing. The females were given training in textile, computing and handicrafts.
Many of them have been employed in several parts of the country in the respected fields of training and have started their lives afresh.
Reintegrating the former combatants
The rehabilitated people were released in batches. More than 60% of the rehabilitated persons have been sent back to their families within one and half years since the commencement of the rehabilitation process. Brig. Ranasinghe said there were around 4700 former combatants remaining in the centres. “All the children and women have been released and reintegrated. Only the men remain,” he added.
Initially, 157 university students were reintegrated to the society. Brig. Ranasinghe said that they were at the wrong place at the wrong time. “Most of these students were from outside and had gone there. They could not leave when the doors closed and were taken into fight by the LTTE,” he said. Next, the children were released and then the disabled persons.
The Bureau established peace villages in Pampaimadu last year where some of the former cadres were allowed to live with their family members. They were given all the facilities.
But, the villages have been closed as they had gone to their own places to restart their lives with their families.
The number of rehabilitation has been brought down to nine with the gradual release of the rehabilitated persons. Former combatants are being rehabilitated in Vavuniya (five centres), Jaffna (1), Batticaloa (2) and Polonnaruwa (1).
“Though the numbers have been brought down, there are still 4000 odd people still remaining. They will be released gradually,” Brig. Ranasinghe said.
Monitoring after reintegrating
The most important aspect of the whole rehabilitation process is that they do not resort to violence. Brig. Ranasinghe pointed out that the authorities had looked into this aspect and had taken initiatives that the reintegrated persons keep themselves occupied and do not go back to the gun culture they were used to.
“Once they are reintegrated, we inform the nearest police station and provide them with the details. They will be monitored for a minimum of three months,” he said. In addition, he added that they would not be allowed to leave their places without informing the respective police stations during this period.
Loan assistance to beneficiaries
The Bureau has also taken the initiatives to provide loan assistance to the rehabilitated beneficiaries. “They should come up with a proposal and show it to me and the Central bank for approval. Once it is done, I would provide them with a letter. They can take this letter to the nearest Bank of Ceylon and would be able to get Rs. 100,000 over the counter,” he said.

Published in the Nation on April 24, 2011



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