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Analysis Mental Health Cost Borne by Families of Missing in Sri Lanka

Analysis Mental Health Cost Borne by Families of Missing in Sri Lanka

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Published by: Thavam on Sep 09, 2013
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Sun sets over northern Sri Lanka, where the weight of past disappearanceshangs over former conflict zoneiCOLOMBO, 9 September 2013 (IRIN) - Sri Lanka has yet toaddress the psychological trauma suffered by family members of thousandsof missing persons, even decades after their disappearances, by notacknowledging the extent and circumstances of these disappearances, sayactivists and researchers.
Family members are often haunted by questions or fears about whatsuffering their missing spouses, children or parents may have gone throughor may be experiencing still,” Ananda Galappatti , a medical anthropologistand national consultant with Colombo University, told IRIN.
 The uncertainty of not knowing whether to mourn a missing person asdead or whether to keep searching leaves family members ‘stuck’ in theirprocess of dealing with the loss - both emotionally and socially,” he said. There is limited organized psychosocial support in Sri Lanka for families of the people missing, he and other experts have long noted.Galappatti said this lack of assistance has been largely due to limited
 
support from both the state and non-profit sector, adding that the complexand often sensitive circumstances of disappearances deter help-seekers aswell as help-providers.
Many psychosocial service providers are not well equipped for negotiatingthese [politically sensitive] issues, which fall outside of the traditional skill-set for support workers,” he said.Some NGOs report the government has restricted their access to families inneed.Saroja Sivachandran, director of the Jaffna-based Centre for Women andDevelopment, said government authorities and the military have untilrecently been reluctant to allow NGOs like hers, which work in human rights(such astracing the missing), do field work. Government officials in thenorth denied obstructing access.Sivachandran said even after access was relaxed for a number of theseNGOs, starting in 2011, many victims are still reluctant to cooperate whenapproached by the organization. Tracing people, tracing painRukii Fernando, an activist with the Rights Now Initiative, a national NGO of activists and researchers, said the government’s reluctance to acknowledgedisappearances is to blame for the country’s anaemic psycho-social supportsector.
Acknowledging and talking about it [disappearances] is a fundamentalbasis for tackling trauma. Governments’ hostility [to the issue] also reducesopportunity to get financial resources and human resources - for example,from many Asian and Latin American countries, which have positiveexperiences in this,” he said.Maheshwari, a 24-year-old woman from the northern district of Kilinochchi,who requested IRIN withhold her family name, has been looking for herbrother since their family tried to escape the last bout of fighting during thefirst week of May 2009.
We were together until we crossed the lagoon,” she told IRIN, referring tothe lagoon at Nathikandhal, a coastal village in Mulaittivu District. Therewas a scramble as they crossed government lines, and her brother wasseparated from the family.
 
 They have not seen or heard from him since.Maheshwari reported still experiencing bouts of insomnia, depression andfeelings of hopelessness - for which she has never sought treatment -making it all but “impossible to move on”.
When you are living in limbo, not knowing what happened to your lovedone, you keep vacillating between hope and despair,” said AmnestyInternational’s spokeswoman in Australia, Ming Yu.Acknowledging lossIn the last three and half decades, large-scale disappearances - though howmany precisely is unknown - have occurred. In that time, the country hasseen an insurrection launched by the Janatha Vimukthi Peramuna (People’sLiberation Party) in the south of the country, from 1988 to 1989, and adecades-long civil war in the north between government forces and theLiberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam rebels, which ended in May 2009.Local activist Fernando said that a widely circulated, though officiallyunsubstantiated, figure of disappearances during the 1988-89 insurrectionis 60,000.In 1995, a presidential task force investigating the disappearances recordedat least 30,000 complaints of “involuntary removals and disappearances
.Photo:
Still no answers for this mom to tell her child what happened to dadUp north, the number of those who went missing during the 26-year civilconflict has remained equally elusive. According to a2011 governmentsurvey, there were 2,635 persons listed as “untraceable” in NorthernProvince between 2005 and 2009, while researchers and humanitarianswho worked there during the conflict estimate more.As of 2012, the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) haddocumented 16,090 cases of missing people in Sri Lanka, but many of these cases may predate this period, and include those who disappearedduring the 1988-89 insurrection.According to ICRC records in 2012, it received 310 new requests to trace

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