Struggle to return to their homeland!

Iranaitheevu, a pair of twin islands, six kilometres away from the mainland of Kilinochchi district, has been in the recent past a hot spot in the Political arena of the Northern Province. The reason is none other than the continuous military occupation of Iranaitheevu where the local residents are not allowed to enter in or carry out their traditional fishing which is the main source of income. For the past one year the local residents have been on a road side sit-on-protest demanding the immediate release of their land. The people were made to displace from Iranaitheevu in 1992 due to the armed conflict between the Sri Lankan Army and the Tamil Tigers. From then onwards the residents were located temporarily in an adjacent village in the main land. On and off when the environment was safe and sound the fishermen would frequent the shores to carry out their fishing. But when the armed conflict came to an end in 2009 and the people began returning from the IDP camps, really they had hope in restarting their life in their native land. But nine years have gone since then and the people are going through immense struggle in temporary shelters without proper income generating means and future perspectives. The yearlong protest witnessed high-level meetings between the civil society and government and security officials, but all efforts were in vain. Oblates shouldered this initiative of the people to fight for their right to return to their home land. On the 23rd of April, around 300 residents of Iranaitheevu, accompanied by their Parish Priest and a good number of Priests and Religious, sailed in 50 boats to Iranaithevu despite the restrictions and warnings from the Navy and landed there to secure their lands in a peaceful way. Now the people have taken refuge in the main church and the church surroundings. Serious discussions are underway to solve the issue peacefully and let the people to settle in the island for good.
The history of Irranaitheevu is so closely linked to the Oblate mission in Sri Lanka. When the Oblates arrived in Jaffna they heard of a little flock in this island. Soon the missionaries arrived there and began accompanying the people there who in fact had none of the basic facilities. Due to the demographic importance of this island, the islanders were for a long time been subjected to invasions of various groups who would often grab the resources and riches of these twin islands and exploitation of Muslim businessmen. So the main task of the missionaries was to protect them from the invaders and exploiters. Thus, Irranaitheevu became an important point of Vali-missam. For a long time Oblate missionaries had been considered to be the official administrators of these islands. With the help of the Government officials in Jaffna peninsula the missionaries improved the transport system to the island, created better health care facilities, promoted economic sustainability, introduced new ways of fishing, concentrated on the education of the children and ameliorated the social condition. Two churches found in these islands are significant symbols of untiring work of Oblate missionaries. Even now people carry the memories of notable Oblate missionaries namely Frs. Victor Deslandes, Emile Viard, Emile de la Haye, Simeon Gomez, Henry Moreau and Bonifacio Gonzalez. Fifteen years of Fr. Gonzalez’s stay at Iranaitheevu (1975 – 1990) is hailed as the era of steady growth and splendorous changes.  During his time, the hundred percent Catholic island improved very much a hundred percent in every aspect of its life. Mud houses were turned into stone brick houses, fishing method was mechanized, daily transport was organized, postal services were brought in, water preserving techniques were introduced and the schools and education was attended too. During this time vocation to religious life and priesthood was promoted and Fr. Thomas Anthony Pillai OMI, aka TAP who is a missionary in Canada, was ordained in 1977 as the first Religious Priest from this island.

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