A press release issued by the Ministry of Industry and Commerce stated that Menik Farm, the Sri Lankan refugee displacement village that entered the global limelight as the world’s largest refugee camp at one time, has been brought back to life as part of a US$ 1.8 million national apparel initiative at village levels.
“Reconciliation would be a distant dream without proper livelihood for IDPs and the war-affected,” said Minister of Industry and Commerce, Rishad Bathiudeen, recently, addressing more than 200 people of the Menik Farm Village, located south west of Vavuniya during the inauguration ceremony of one of the mini factories under the 150 Mini Apparel Factories Programme by his Ministry. This village was the former Menik Farm Displacement Camp (or simply Menik Farm), which was considered the world’s largest refugee camp at one time, sheltering close to 300,000 refugees. The displacement camp had eight zones and after a four-year run, it was closed at the end of 2012 as the war ended and refugees were resettled. This vicinity now has the Menik Farm Village. The Rs 287 million (US$ 1.87 million) project aims to set up 150 mini apparel factories across the country in support of the Government’s one million new employment programme. The Sri Lanka Institute of Textile & Apparel (SLITA) under Minister Bathiudeen is tasked with the project which seeks to employ 3,000 women across the country in self-employment in apparels and handlooms.
The project is centred a 20-women strong, small scale ‘mini’ apparel factory and has higher goals to produce high quality apparel, rather than handlooms alone and to be part of a world class global apparel supply chain that Sri Lanka is reputed for.
Each factory, therefore, is provided with a range of high-end apparel machineries that are industry standard in Sri Lanka-single needle machines, cutting tables and even button-hole machines. A special feature of the project is that close to 50% of all mini factories were forgotten with the three-decade conflict, leaving many helpless war widows in the Northern and Eastern Provinces, he release added.
“73 centres of the 150 are dedicated to conflict-affected families such as you,” said Minister Bathiudeen addressing the 300th Menik Camp village. All who flocked to take part in the traditional opening ceremony and witness the birth of the apparel factory in their village on 14 November, were all Tamils. “Of the 73 mini factories in the North and East, 38 will be in the Northern Province while 35 will be in the East. The Jaffna District will get three, while Vavuniya will have 13 factories. So far, 135 centres have commenced training and after six months, these centres will become mini apparel factories, each employing 22 people.
The trained women thereafter can form their own textile cooperative or business partnerships, with regional buyers through supply sub contracts. We want these 150 factories to form their own apparel companies or cooperatives one day and share their profits among them. Reconciliation would be a distant dream without provision of livelihood to war affected families”, he added. Minister Bathiudeen and SLITA officials including the Director General of SLITA (Engineer) Robert Peries thereafter distributed apparel machinery to the twenty war widows and also launched their training sessions.
The Menik Farm Displacement Camp was familiar to Minister Bathiudeen, who, as the then Minister of Resettlement and Disaster Relief Services in charge of resettlement of refugees at the close of war, was a frequent visitor to the site to review the progress of relief distribution and resettlement, the release concluded.