Over the years, Sandiya Angelina and her husband were able to provide for their family’s needs by fishing and they even managed to build up a reserve in case of hard times. The military occupation of their homeland, the small island of Iranaitivu, abruptly changed all this. Now, the family fights hunger every day.
“The war is long gone and yet the navy occupies our land. How is that possible?”, asks Sandiya Angelina. In 1992, this grandmother had to flee from her home in the island of Iranaitivu to the mainland because of the war. However, she was able to travel regularly to the island to collect seafood on the beach and, occasionally, to look after her house. However, since 2009 this has not been possible: the navy has transformed Iranaitivu into a military base and has severely restricted access to the island for its former residents.
Women, in particular, are suffering
Women are still prohibited from entering the island. During the day, men can fish on a small coastal strip of the island if they undertake the 19 kilometres crossing twice a day in their small, motorized fishing boats. Women like Sandiya, who used to live largely on seafood products, are particularly hard hit by the military occupation as they have been completely deprived of their traditional livelihood. In exile on the mainland, there is little option but to pursue some form of waged labour. Not only are there a lack of jobs but also a lack of vocational training and traditional gender roles make this especially difficult.
Despite all the challenges
The former village community of Iranaitivu, which has since grown to around 300 families, has been fighting tirelessly for its confiscated land since 1 May 2017. Sandiya Angelina also participates in the protest despite her impressive 74 years of age and she usually stays overnight at the protest site. Although the navy does not want to release the island because of its strategic location, this woman with many grandchildren has still not lost her confidence: “I pray to the statue of Mary every day to get my country back. Iranaitivu is and remains my home”.
The GfbV campaign for land returns in the Vanni area of Sri Lanka has had a success: In mid-May 2018, the Navy returned its land to the inhabitants of the island of Iranaitivu. For the people of Iranaitivu, this means that from now on they will be able to fish and collect seafood without restriction – and that people will be able to earn a good income again.