Sri Lanka, ‘The Wonder of Asia’ is well known for its tropical climate, beautiful landscapes and rich culture. Less well know is the bloody civil war that ravaged for decades due to ethnic tensions between the Sinhalese majority and the Tamil minority. Despite it’s huge tourist appeal, there is a very dark side to this paradise.
Contrasting to the south, the North has many war damaged buildings and a heavy military presence. Even though war ended in 2009 and the government evicted NGO’s, those I met didn’t speak of the recovery one might expect to find from a place no longer receiving assistance. People were terrified to speak for dread of repercussions they had faced and witnessed.
Civilians are the worst affected. Those pictured in this series did not join forces and bear arms; they ran from their homes, leaving death and anything they couldn’t carry behind. Many I spoke to were displaced during the war and still live within resettlement camps, their existence the government denies. Men of my age were born in these camps and have spent their entire lives there.
It was hard to ascertain where the boundaries from bombing and shelling were, or if they even existed at all.
Compared to the number of those who need help the charities cannot cope, designing, building and manufacturing their own prosthetics. Patients cannot pay and the government provides just £1.50 for every disabled patient who is under the poverty line of £30 a month. Limbs need to be changed annually and more frequently for children. The need for prosthetics is on going and the demand is not decreasing.
Both physical and mental injuries have left civilians disabled. One young girl had witnessed a father and daughter blown apart on the beach in front of her during a shell attack, she was suffering from undiagnosed post traumatic stress, could not speak and had not left her home for twelve years. When I entered the room she screamed in terror.
Men, women and children have been caught in the crossfire of this conflict. Missing limbs, eyes, the ability to provide for their families and most profoundly a reassurance that their lives will improve. After intimidation and arrest by the military police for “investigating the war crimes” I had to leave the country. The war has ended but the pain and fear of those left behind is still very real.