Sri Lankan refugees traumatised after nine-day ordeal at sea

May 1st, 2009 - 8:26 pm ICT by IANS  

By Mohammed Shafeeq
Hyderabad, May 1 (IANS) Sitting in the lap of his father Sivadas Jagadeeswaran, one-year-old Kubel is crying for milk, not aware of the tragedy in the high seas that forever snatched away his mother and nine others while escaping from war-torn Sri Lanka.

Jagadeeswaran and Kubel were part of three families of Sri Lankan Tamils who underwent a nine-day ordeal after escaping from Mullaithivu, the last battlefield between the Sri Lankan Army and the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE).

With guns booming all around, a group of 21 people set out on a boat for Rameswaram in Tamil Nadu. They hoped to reach the refugee camp within a few hours but it turned out to be a nightmare as they lost their way.

Ten people died of starvation and the survivors dumped their bodies in the sea so that they could survive a bit longer.

The dead included five men and four kids. Kubel lost his mother early Wednesday, a few hours before they were rescued by fishermen off the Andhra coast.

“Four children older to Kubel died of starvation. Kubel survived because his mother was feeding him but she too succumbed to starvation Wednesday morning. The kid was lucky as they were rescued a few hours later,” Kakinada Revenue Divisional Officer Kishore Babu told IANS over phone from Kakinada in East Godavari district.

The members of three families, mostly fishermen, escaped the guns in their native place but could not escape death at sea.

The heart-rending stories of the survivors came to light when they spoke to local authorities through an interpreter.

“Life has turned hell for me. I don’t know how I survived,” said Mary Joseph, 45, who lost two sons and a daughter in the high sea.

The official said Mary was unconscious when she was rescued. Even after regaining consciousness, she could hardly speak.

“The sight of their near and dear ones dying before their eyes and their haplessness in giving them a watery burial has sent them into a trauma. Some have lost their husbands and others have lost their children,” said Babu.

“They fled to save themselves and in the panic lost their way. They had no food and survived on sea water for nine days,” he added.

The local authorities were moved by their pathetic condition. Nine of the survivors were admitted to a government-run hospital in Kakinada with severe dehydration, shock and mental trauma. Five of them were later discharged.

“Four women are still in hospital suffering acute dehydration. Five men, one woman and one kid are in police custody,” said Babu, who is in-charge of the rescue operations.

Police have registered a case against the refugees under the Fishermen Act for trespassing into Indian waters.

“We will send them to the refugee camp at Rameswaram after the condition of the women undergoing treatment in hospital improves,” the official said.

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