As Sri Lanka marked the first anniversary of its victory over the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE), many internally displaced people (IDPs) are still battling to rebuild their lives.
Tens of thousands were killed in the decades-long war, according to government figures, and another 280,000 fled their homes during the last phase of the war in 2009, only to find themselves forced to live in hastily erected government-run camps.
And while efforts to reconstruct the conflict-affected north are slowly getting off the ground, many former IDPs say returning to normality is not easy.
"The war ending is good. No one would say otherwise,” said Ratnavel Mahendran, a street vendor from Jaffna, capital of the Northern Province. “The parents will not fear that [students] will be killed on the way to or from school.”
For Sivalingam Satheeswaran, 16, however, the pain still lingers even though he is happy to return to school in his home town of Kilinochchi, which in late 2008 was the site of a two-month-long battle between separatist and government forces.
“My father was killed while we fled the fighting last year,” he laments. “My mother is struggling to keep me in school and look after the house.”
“But,” he told IRIN, “it is better than last year. There is some kind of peace, [but back] then there was only war.”
During the war, Kilinochchi was the de-facto capital of the Tamil Tigers, who had been fighting for an independent Tamil homeland in the north since 1983.
More help needed
The government should do more to restore destroyed homes, infrastructure and livelihoods so displaced people can return home, said Karthigesu Balakrishnapillai, 71, a retired farmer who lives just south of Kilinochchi. “We need help to recover what we lost in those 30 years,” he told IRIN.
Since the war was declared over, 216,000 IDPs have returned home from the camps or are staying with host families, while another 73,000 remain in camps, the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) reported.
Many young people lost out on their education during the war, leaving them without decent job prospects as they grow older.
"People say that now we will get development, we will get better facilities, we will get schools," said Janaki, 28, who trained as a teacher but now runs a shop south of Kilinochchi. She asked that her family name not be published.
“If that happens, good. Otherwise many people like me, who are educated, will be doing jobs below their skills,” she said.
Elsewhere on the island, since the war ended officials say the much valued tourism industry is being revived, helping to bolster livelihoods – and offering hope to many of the country’s 21 million inhabitants.
In the first quarter of this year, arrivals grew by more than 50 percent against the same period in 2009, according to the Sri Lanka Tourism Development Authority, mostly from Western Europe.
“The increased number of arrivals was primarily due to the improvement of the security situation,” Siri E Goonewardene, president of the Hikkaduwa Hoteliers’ Association, said.
At the same time, over the past year, the government has loosened travel restrictions to the conflict-affected north, offering similar opportunities to areas of the island nation once largely off-limits to outsiders.
A resulting influx of local visitors to Jaffna has caused trade to pick up in the region, said Rasiah Janakumaran, head of the Jaffna Chamber of Commerce. Thousands of local tourists make it to Jaffna every week, he said.