Meet the Navananagagans. They hail from Nagarkovil, a small village facing the Pacific Ocean on the eastern side of the Jaffna peninsula, separated from the Sri Lankan mainland by a tiny slither of land that was heavily contested during the armed conflict. When the Sri Lankan army finally pushed the LTTE forces off the peninsula in 2000, the Navananagagan’s home became swallowed up by the forward defensive line. The young family fled south, along with all the neighbours.
The end of the conflict should have heralded the return home for the Navananagagans, but like so many of their displaced people, the journey home literally involved crossing a minefield.
Two years later, The HALO Trust began clearance work in highest priority zones around Nagarkovil funded by the UK’s Department for International Development (DFID). Since then deminers have removed nearly 34,000 anti-personnel mines, 119 anti-tank mines and 1,442 items of various unexploded ordnance, using flair machines where the mine threat was deemed to be lower and manual clearance on areas of high priority with confirmed threat. The combination of methods prioritised land with direct access to the sea so that communities could return home and resume fishing immediately.
The Navananagagans finally returned home in 2012 – twelve long years since they had fled. At first they had to live in a temporary shelter but within a couple of years had build their own home with assistance from the Indian Housing Development scheme. By early 2015 they were connected to the electrical mains.
Although the community remain heavily dependent on fishing, depleted fish stocks mean that they must now supplement their income through cultivating their own fruit and vegetables. Thanks to mine clearance of the land, families are planting market gardens in safety and without risk of losing life or limb. Mine clearance has also facilitated the arrival of new infrastructure to the village, such as a new refrigerated fish market which helps preserve the longevity of Mr Navananagagan’s catch. After the turmoil of the last 12 years, the family have at last arrived home to face a better, safer future.